- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009



“Hope.” That was the mantra of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency. It certainly was the leitmotif of his first week in office. If that hope proves misplaced, the national security may suffer serious harm.

Specifically, hope was the order of the day as Mr. Obama issued executive orders to close within a year the detention and interrogation center at Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo”) - the nation’s only state-of-the-art facility for securely holding and systematically debriefing some of our most dangerous enemies.

President Obama’s determination to take as one of his first official acts the closure of Gitmo was not simply a gesture designed to placate those among his left-wing constituency, many of whom have been restive about his more “centrist” Cabinet choices. It was also meant to signal to the rest of the world the arrival of a dramatically new order in Washington.

Clearly, Mr. Obama hopes our friends will respond by doing more to help us counter the threat posed to all of us by what he euphemistically - and inaccurately - called in his Inaugural address “a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” For starters, they could take some of the Gitmo detainees off our hands.

Several European nations are said to want to perform this favor for Mr. Obama, one they adamantly refused to do for his predecessor. With luck, any such terrorists will actually be detained for the duration of the conflict.

Unfortunately, past experience suggests that terrorists we turn over to the safekeeping of others may get away. This can happen either as a result of jail breaks (like those we have seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen) or because their jailers decide to free them.

In either event, we can always hope they won’t resume their previous efforts to destroy us.

Unfortunately, that has not always been the case, either. There are said to be at least 60 of the roughly 550 detainees the U.S. released from Gitmo who have returned to the fight. That number may be wildly conservative as exact data on the status of unlawful combatants let out of Guantanamo is hard to come by.

One case we learned about last week, however, is probably instructive. The New York Times reported that former Gitmo resident Said Ali al-Shihri is now believed to be the deputy commander of al Qaeda in Yemen. He is suspected of masterminding a murderous attack last September on the U.S. Embassy there.

In addition to our allies, Mr. Obama appears intent on affecting another audience - namely, our enemies - not only by closing Guantanamo Bay but by prohibiting the use of aggressive interrogation techniques and so-called “black sites.” The latter are secret detention facilities around the world said to have been run in the past by the CIA in order to hold and interrogate high-value detainees like the self-confessed architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

It is worrying that, if our new president actually thinks we are up against a “far-reaching network of hatred and violence” - as opposed to millions of adherents to a totalitarian theo-political-legal program authoritative Islam calls “Shariah” - he may actually think these gestures will help defeat our foes. At the very least, he believes he will, by so doing, deny them recruiting tools.

But what if the enemy views these steps instead as victories for their cause, further evidence of the fecklessness of liberal democracies and proof positive of the inevitability of the triumph of jihad and the global theocracy administering Shariah for which it is waged? In that event, the central hope underpinning Mr. Obama’s first executive orders - that we will never again need such facilities and capabilities - seems likely to be dashed, later if not sooner.

That is especially true insofar as evidence mounts that America may soon experience more, possibly devastating attacks. Late last year, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission appointed by Congress and led by former Sens. Bob Graham and Jim Talent issued a stern warning: “It is more likely than not” that nuclear and/or biological attacks will take place somewhere around the world between now and 2013.

Against this backdrop, any gratification one might have felt at hearing reports of bubonic plague killing al Qaeda operatives in North Africa has to be tempered by a sobering thought: At least one of the Shariah-adherents’ terrorist franchises may be actively experimenting with weaponized versions of deadly pathogens.

Add in reports that large numbers of young Somali males, many of whom were fraudulently admitted to this country as “refugees,” have recently “disappeared” from their expatriate communities. At least some are believe to have made their way to one or more of the 35 paramilitary training camps in the United States and Canada run by terrorism-tied Pakistani Sheik Mubarak Ali Gilani’s Jamaat ul-Fuqra.

These ominous camps are the subject of a soon-to-be released film, “Homegrown Jihad: Terrorist Camps around the United States.”

Will these facilities prove to be launching pads for the next wave of attacks here in the United States? Is the Obama administration cognizant of this possibility and acting to preclude it? Or is it simply hoping that such dangers will not eventuate?

It has been observed that hope is not a strategy. The question is: When Barack Obama is done with his hope-based initiatives, will America still retain the option to execute more realistic, and more efficacious, strategies?

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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