New Year, same Al-Qaida

Posted: Dec 29, 2004 12:00 AM

With each new year we move further away from Sept. 11. All of us should take a moment to recall the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center; the towers broken apart like toy models. Below them twisted fragments of steel and flesh strewn across the ground. At the time, the images seemed so foreign. We had become decadent. We no longer thought such things could happen to us.

We cannot let that happen again. We cannot let our economic prosperity lull us into a false sense of security. We must not lose sight of the evil threats that continue to haunt us.

For example, the intelligence community in our country knows that there are numerous al-Qaida operatives in America. They also are closely monitoring thousands of terrorists around the world. But because of our laws there is nothing we can do to them until they attack us. Nowhere else in the world is this kind of leniency allowed except in the United States. Those laws that prevent our government from arresting terrorists were created long before 9/11.

Something more is needed now. Al-Qaida operatives in America and abroad are guilty by association. They have proven over and over that they will attack innocent people without remorse wherever possible. They are fighting a war without rules and it is time our legislatures allowed our soldiers to fight back on a level playing field.

Recently, al-Qaida claimed that Americans had killed 100,000 people in Iraq. They have issued a warning that 100,000 Americans will die by nuclear warfare as retribution. So what do we do? Do we wait for these terrorists to act, to again wreak havoc here in America? Or, because we know where they are, should we not eliminate them now? Should we not dismantle them by any means necessary - what we call pre-emptive strikes - to make sure that this kind of tragedy never happens again on our soil?

The creation of the Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security were a good start, but now it is time for legislatures to allow our intelligence community, our police force and our military to do their jobs. Modify the laws so that we can take out these al-Qaida operatives that are under our watch, but beyond our reach.

According to the Department of Justice, "hundreds of suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout the United States." Unfortunately many of these suspected terrorists couldn't be detained, brought in for questioning, or put on trial because there's no direct evidence linking them to a crime. However, in this post 9/11 era, if we wait until there is evidence to disrupt these suspected terrorists, it will be too late. I am not suggesting that we give the DOJ the ability to arrest anybody they want, but Congress would do well to make it easier for the DOJ to at least detain suspected terrorists, label them "enemy combatants" and question them in an effort to learn about future al-Qaida plans.

If we take a look at history, we see what happens when terrorists are provided safe haven to build up their networks. They will spend as long as it takes to train operatives, prepare suicide bombers and devise devastating plots, survey possible worldwide targets, and strike. Although al-Qaida has clearly been weakened since 9/11, the terrorist attacks during 2002 in Tunisia, Bali, Kuwait and Kenya and in 2004 in Spain demonstrated that it has not been destroyed.

A closer look at the war in Iraq shows that the al-Qaida terrorist network is continually attempting to disrupt the peace. Over the previous year, dozens of innocent civilians have been kidnapped and beheaded, including longtime CARE aid worker Margaret Hassan. Hassan had devoted her life to supporting the poor and disadvantaged in Iraq, particularly children. Assisting more than 17 million Iraqis during her tenure in the Middle East, Hassan was loved and respected in the region.

Whether hiding on American soil or fighting in Iraq, all al-Qaida operatives must be dealt with in the most significant way. They must be smoked out, detained, arrested and punished. Once convicted, they should go to the front of the line on death row. In order to ensure the capture of terrorists and protect our homeland and democracies abroad, it is imperative that Congress stays on the offensive. Through legislation, innovative and improved equipment and a steady stream of troop deployment, we can overcome terrorism. There can be no timetable for results - no date for withdrawal - because only when every al-Qaida operative is brought to justice will this mission be completed. And only when this mission is completed can Americans rest easy.