Washington, D.C.-House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) joined top Republicans on the House Armed Services, Appropriations, Intelligence, and Homeland Security committees today in sending a letter to President Obama outlining six initial steps that the Administration should take to help improve American security in the wake of the attempted terrorist bombing of Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

Ranking Member Smith:  “While I’m pleased that the President has decided to delay his plan to transfer Gitmo terrorists to Yemen, I am concerned that it took a near tragedy to get this Administration to acknowledge the terrorist threat.  Yemen is a hotbed for terrorism.  Even the Yemeni Foreign Minister has acknowledged that ‘hundreds’ of al Qaeda militants are currently plotting terrorist attacks from Yemen.

“It should not take a failed terrorist attack for this Administration to realize that releasing terrorists endangers American lives.  The Administration should not just put a ‘hold’ on the release or transfer of terrorists to Yemen. They should put an end to the practice of releasing any terrorist to any country. Terrorists are enemies of war; they should not be treated like common criminals.

“While America remains a target of al Qaeda, the remaining Gitmo terrorists should be detained and tried in military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Anything less puts the American people at risk.”

The letter-signed by Judiciary Ranking Member Smith, Armed Services Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), Appropriations Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Intelligence Ranking Member Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), and Homeland Security Ranking Member Peter King (R-NY) follows:

“We are writing you to express our deep concern regarding the recent attack on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. Over the past few days it has come to light that the bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, carried out the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda elements operating in Yemen. This latest attack once again makes clear that al-Qaeda is a formidable enemy that continues to plan and attempt attacks on our homeland.

“Our failure to prevent an al-Qaeda-linked attack on United States soil raises serious questions about vulnerabilities within our homeland security, intelligence and law enforcement communities. While we welcome your recent statement that you will use ‘every element of our national power to keep Americans safe’ and your commitment to making the ‘security enhancements and intelligence-sharing improvements in our homeland security and counterterrorism operations,’ we think there are specific initial steps your Administration should take to put this commitment into practice. These are steps that we believe are critical to our nation’s security and the defeat of al-Qaeda. 

1.      “We encourage you to reverse the Justice Department’s decision to pursue the Abdulmutallab case in Federal court. In our view Abdulmutallab should be designated as an unprivileged enemy belligerent and detained and prosecuted consistent with laws of armed conflict-not the criminal justice system. In the war on terrorism-like any other conflict-combatants need to be thoroughly interrogated by the Intelligence Community before they encounter counsel, let alone a public defender. All jihadist attackers should be charged as enemy combatants, taken into military custody, interrogated for vital intelligence, and tried in military courts under the laws of armed conflict. 

2.      “The Administration should conduct a comprehensive review of our engagement with Yemen. Like Pakistan, Yemen suffers from ungoverned spaces that harbor al-Qaeda and its affiliated networks. We no longer have confidence that the Yemeni government has the capacity to assist the United States in providing for our nation’s security. To that end, we encourage you to cease all detainee transfers from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Yemen. While we appreciate the Administration’s decision to stop transfers to Yemen for the time being, we believe there should be an absolute cessation of transfers from Guantanamo to Yemen and to other countries with ungoverned spaces or governments unable to detain, rehabilitate or monitor returned detainees. 

3.      “We support efforts to strengthen Yemen’s military and think we should build on these existing programs.  Recent events only reinforce that Yemen is a country that requires our security assistance.

4.      “The detainee population in Guantanamo-including detainees recently transferred-are the most hardened, irreconcilable combatants. We would encourage you to closely review the risk of recidivism for the detainees transferred to Yemen on December 19th. The Administration must reform its transfer policies to ensure the United States tracks and monitors those detainees who have already been transferred to Yemen. Placing our trust and security in the hands of a country already under siege by al-Qaeda only invites more risk to our safety and Yemen’s stability.   

5.      “The Administration should revise current rules that excessively limit who can be placed on the no-fly list and selector lists and make certain that the government acts aggressively to ensure that all travelers that are the subject of intelligence reports receive full scrutiny. Overly restrictive and legalistic rules and bureaucracy appear to have kept the Christmas bomber off the no-fly and selectee lists. We cannot risk allowing this to happen again. Tentative steps by the administration to add more suspects to the list help, but have not fundamentally changed the problematic rules.

6.      “Remove legal and bureaucratic barriers that have raised significant obstacles for the U.S. military and Intelligence Community in aggressively pursuing Americans abroad such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Adam Gadahn who have treasonously joined or assisted terrorist groups.

“Mr. President, the war on terrorism is a global conflict. We need to continue to stay on the offensive and keep al-Qaeda on the defensive. We believe these steps will aid in the defeat of al-Qaeda and increase our nation’s safety and security.”