- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In a clear warning shot at President-elect Donald Trump, President Obama said Tuesday the U.S. can only protect the homeland against terrorism by embracing Muslims and encouraging a society “that can criticize a president without retribution.”

Speaking to special operations troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Mr. Obama delivered his final speech on the war on terrorism as a thinly veiled reminder for Mr. Trump about “what we’re fighting for.”

“The United States of America is not a country that imposes religious tests as a price for freedom,” Mr. Obama said in a reference to Mr. Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants. “The United States of America is not a place where some citizens have to withstand greater scrutiny or carry a special ID card or prove that they’re not an enemy from within.”

The president said the U.S. must remain true to its values that “each of us has a responsibility to sustain the universal right to speak your mind and protest against authority, to live in a society that’s open and free, that can criticize a president without retribution.”

Ahead of his speech, Mr. Obama issued a set of legal guidelines for using military force in counterterrorism operations. The 61-page document also seemed to be aimed at Mr. Trump, who has said he’ll allow the use of torture against terrorism suspects and has suggested killing family members of terrorists.

Gen. James Mattis, Mr. Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, has advised him against the use of torture.

Mr. Obama defended his decision to eliminate what the Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation” and what he called “torture.”

“Over these last eight years, we have demonstrated that staying true to our tradition as a nation of laws advances our security as well as our values,” Mr. Obama said. “We prohibited torture everywhere at all times, and that includes tactics like waterboarding. And at no time has anybody who has worked with me told me that doing so has cost us good intelligence. We can get these terrorists and stay true to who we are.”

Mr. Trump also has pledged to send more terrorist detainees to the Guantanamo Bay prison, a facility that Mr. Obama has tried to close repeatedly and is depopulating regardless. Mr. Obama said the U.S. is “wasting hundreds of millions” of dollars on Gitmo.

Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights program, said Mr. Obama “made the case for a national security policy that respects human dignity and human rights.”

“With a president-elect who has enthusiastically embraced waterboarding, a special registry for Muslims and expansion of indefinite detention at Guantanamo, it cannot be overstated that these legal boundaries must be drawn — repeatedly,” she said.

Mr. Trump and many Republicans in Congress have accused Mr. Obama of taking too soft of an approach to the war on terror, including his refusal to utter the phrase “radical Islamist extremism.” Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, said Tuesday that the Obama administration “took the pressure off” Islamist terrorists.

“For eight years, the Obama administration reluctantly played global whack-a-mole with terrorists rather than leaning into the fight with decisive leadership,” Mr. McCaul said. “Because of this, the Trump administration will inherit a generational struggle that has only gotten longer.”

Mr. McCaul added that last week’s attack by a Muslim student at Ohio State University “is further proof that our homeland remains in the crosshairs of Islamist terrorists.”

“Groups like ISIS are radicalizing new operatives from within our borders, and just this week their new spokesman called for more inspired attacks by supporters ‘all over the world,’” Mr. McCaul said. “Make no mistake: we face a deadlier threat than ever before not only because our enemies have gotten savvier, but because we took the pressure off them.”

In his monthly “terror threat snapshot,” Mr. McCaul said the U.S. has seen a “surge” of homegrown jihadi cases, with 115 such attacks in 2015 and 2016. Since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been a total of 227 homegrown terrorist attacks, he said.

The Islamic State has conducted 62 attacks this year around the globe, killing 215 and wounding 732 from the U.S. to France to Belgium, the report said. Mr. McCaul said the threat to the U.S. and Europe “will persist in 2017, particularly as jihadists flee from Mosul and Raqqa,” their bases in Iraq and Syria where U.S.-led coalition forces are waging military campaigns against them.

The president’s speech at the home of the U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. Central Command recounted his administration’s strategy for eight years of fighting the war on terror, from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to relying on foreign troops in the Middle East to wage ground combat against the Islamic State.

Mr. Obama defended his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, a move that critics say allowed the Islamic State to flourish. Not only did the Iraqi government refuse to guarantee that U.S. troops would not be prosecuted for crimes, he said, but the continued presence of U.S. forces “could not have reversed the forces that contributed to ISIL’s rise.”

“A government in Baghdad that pursued a sectarian agenda, a brutal dictator in Syria who lost control of large parts of the country, social media that reached a global pool of recruits, and a hollowing out of Iraq’s security forces” all contributed to the rise of the Islamic State, he said.

Today, after the U.S.-led coalition has carried out more than 16,000 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, he said, “we are breaking the back of ISIL.”

Despite “lone wolf” massacres in the U.S. such as Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California that were inspired by ISIL, Mr. Obama declared that “no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland.”

In an obvious reference to Mr. Trump’s call to allow torture in interrogations of terrorists,

The president said the rules for fighting terrorism must include prohibitions against singling out Muslims in the U.S.

“If we stigmatize good, patriotic Muslims, that just feeds the terrorist narrative,” Mr. Obama said.

The president again called on Congress to renew the authorization for military force in the fight against ISIL, saying the authority is 15 years out of date.

“Democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war,” he said.

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