Attorney Jonathan Emord
January 11, 2010
What is the best way for the United States to act against terrorism without depriving law abiding American citizens of their civil liberties? The aborted attempt of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Northwest Airlines Flight 253 carrying 300 passengers from Amsterdam to Detroit invites us to reconsider this question.
The best means to end international terror is to ferret out terrorists overseas and arrest or kill them before they act. In short, we need to make offensive action against suspected terrorists our primary resort; defensive actions in allied countries and at home a secondary resort. We need good intelligence in countries where terrorists are educated and trained and rapid response to interdict and destroy them. Abdulmutallab was trained by an Al-Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen. His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, a retired chairman of First Bank Nigeria, reported to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that he suspected his son of terrorist activity. He made that report six months ago. The United States government created a file on Abdulmutallab in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment in November 2009 but did not place him on the no fly list or on the terrorist watch list. The slightest inquiry into Abdulmutallab’s background would have revealed that he was a radical Islamist who harbored hatred for the West.
Ideally, we should have identified his terrorist leanings, put him under surveillance, found his connection with the Yemen bomb maker and then tracked down and killed that bomb maker while simultaneously arresting Abdulmutallab on a charge of conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. Obviously, the ideal is difficult to achieve, but our government fell far short of the ideal in this case.
It is inexcusable that six months ago the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria received a report from Abdulmutallab’s own father that his son was a terrorist yet did not immediately track down, follow, interrogate, and arrest him. Had he been followed at that time, his plan to blow up the plane may have been uncovered. His ties to terrorists in Yemen may have also been revealed. In any event, whenever someone’s own father appears before an agency of the U.S. government and declares his child a terrorist, we would do well to prohibit the person so labeled from flying on aircraft or taking public transportation until a thorough investigation reveals whether, indeed, the parent’s charge is supported. There can be no question that the evidence of Abdulmutallab’s radicalization was abundant had we only looked to find it.
A defensive war against terror is a losing war. We salute the courageous and heroic acts of those on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, like Jasper Schuringa, who extinguished Abdulmutallab’s explosive and subdued him, but we all know that a few seconds difference in the sequence of events on that plane could have enabled Abdulmutallab to achieve his objective. Our intelligence services and military must do more to safeguard the American public, and they can do more without forcing all law abiding citizens to undergo extensive airport checks for weapons.
To defeat terrorists, we must go on the offensive overseas much more aggressively than we are at present. Every nation of the world should be put on notice that national boundaries will not be respected if we have reason to believe that people within a country are aiding and abetting the commission of a terrorist act against the United States. We should endeavor to achieve cooperation in advance but should not let a nation’s refusal to cooperate deter us in the slightest from sending military forces into a country and there apprehending those suspected of plotting terrorist attacks against citizens of the United States or, if found in the course of undertaking an act of terror against us, killing the terrorists in foreign lands.
When we identify them overseas, we should arrest them if we are uncertain of their ultimate status or we should destroy them if they are undertaking a terrorist act against us. We need to develop special procedures within our criminal justice system for the prosecution of terrorist suspects. They need to be prosecuted swiftly and appeals need to be completed within thirty days to ensure a rapid conclusion to the matter. For those convicted of terrorism in a final and binding judgment, we need to execute them promptly, and we need to broadcast the conviction, sentencing, and the facts of the execution to people around the world.
In the end, terrorist acts against the United States will only diminish if we prove our resolve to do whatever it takes to identify, arrest, and annihilate those who would commit acts of terror against us. But does that resolve require that we deprive our citizens of their civil liberties at home and abroad?
Presently the Department of Homeland Security is contemplating increasing the number and kind of checks employed at airport terminals on passengers. The sad reality is that an airport is but one locus for a terrorist. Even were we to succeed in defensive measures at the airports, they will simply migrate to other targets.
We should work to reduce the inconvenience of such checks at the airports by inviting law abiding citizens to undergo volitional background checks to determine whether they have ever been convicted of any crime, have ever fraternized with known terrorists, or have ever been members of groups suspected of terrorism. If they have not, then they should be given the privilege of avoiding all but basic security. This would immediately reduce the population of those requiring more extensive checks to ones whose own backgrounds raise suspicion but do not provide sufficient evidence of wrong doing.
For those who have been convicted of a crime, who have fraternized with known terrorists, or who have been members of groups suspected of terrorism, part of the price of admission should be a thorough check at the airport. That selective intrusion on freedom of movement will provide the rest of the traveling public with a greater degree of security. In this way the majority of law abiding citizens can enjoy greater freedom of movement and security services can more discretely observe those whose prior conduct invites suspicion.
© 2010 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved