Report From Congress (Wicker Notes National Security Focus)

Date: Sept. 25, 2006

By Congressman Roger F. Wicker


One question raised during the anniversary observances of the 9-11 terrorist attacks was whether Americans are safer today than we were on that terrible day five years ago. I believe the answer is yes. Congress and the Bush Administration have taken wide-ranging and effective steps to protect our homeland, but we face a determined enemy and our work is far from done.

Security issues have dominated the September calendar in the House of Representatives. The House will consider legislation this week to authorize military tribunals for suspected terrorists and clarify the rules for interrogating terror suspects. The action comes following an agreement between lawmakers and the Bush Administration regarding interrogation techniques. Mr. Bush said the plan "clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do - capture terrorists, detain terrorists, question terrorists, and then try them."


The Military Commissions Act of 2006 would create a fair process to prosecute terrorists while protecting American citizens and safeguarding classified information.

The legislation prevents classified information from falling in the hands of suspected terrorists. Defendants would have access to legal counsel and the ability to present a full defense, but the measure satisfies the overriding concern that sharing sensitive documents could threaten national security. These provisions will protect military personnel and intelligence agents in the field, who are risking their lives to protect us in this long war against terrorism.

It would be absolutely unacceptable to allow terrorists to see top-secret material containing U.S. intelligence sources and methods. The prosecutor in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 said such information released to counsel defending the mastermind of that crime wound up in the possession of Usama bin Laden "within days."


The House will also consider legislation addressing the issue of wiretapping terrorism suspects without court approval. The action comes after a federal judge ruled the practice was unconstitutional. I disagree with the ruling because I believe our government should be free to move quickly and listen in if al Qaeda members are calling individuals within the U.S. I hope we can continue the use of this intelligence-gathering tool while preserving Congressional oversight of the process.

Significant action is also being taken on border security. Among the provisions: adding Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents; more funding for fencing and other barriers; and halting the ineffective "catch and release" policy in favor of transporting illegals back to their country of origin. The House also passed a measure imposing stiff penalties on individuals constructing and using border tunnels, which can be used to smuggle aliens or drugs into the U.S. and another bill clarifying that local and state law officials can enforce immigration law.


It is no accident that we have not experienced another terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, 2001. Our federal government responded quickly to the threat. Steps to create the Department of Homeland Security, enact sweeping intelligence reforms, and pass the USA Patriot Act have been key factors. Actions to protect our transportation systems, enhance public health, and train and equip first responders have also been important.

Another element in our success has been the performance of armed forces. The Pentagon reported last week that the Army, Army National Guard and Reserve met their goals for 2006 ahead of schedule. The spirit remains strong among the men and women who wear our uniform and who continue to step forward to defend our great nation.