Charles Krauthammer penned an op-ed on Saturday that brilliantly illustrates the ridiculous dichotomy of the current administration’s anti-terror policy. This insight gives one an impression of a tangled and inconsistent approach to combating violent extremism that warrants a dramatic overhaul.

Krauthammer points out that, under the current administration, foreign nationals detained on American soil for participating in acts of terrorism, be they preparatory (collecting bomb-making materials) or final (setting off a failed explosive device aboard an airliner), have been accorded Constitutional protections, among which are the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and the right to trial in a civilian court. This is illustrated by the gradual “decommissioning” of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as well as the treatment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be “Christmas Day Bomber” now in custody.

In stark contrast, the Obama administration has opted to continue in large part the policy of the Bush administration in its contingency operations overseas; that is, capturing or killing those involved in acts of terrorism, be they preparatory (training camps) or final (setting off bombs in crowded marketplaces) by use of military force. American predator drones routinely end the careers of up-and-coming jihadists in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and, as we now know, Yemen. Those extremists who are captured are turned over to American military or intelligence officials for exhaustive interrogation and indefinite detention, whereby they are squeezed like a proverbial lemon for every drop of usable intelligence they can provide. There are no lawyers, and there is certainly no Fifth Amendment.

So what accounts for the radically disparate treatment of extremists unfortunate enough to be operating in Pakistan and extremists lucky enough to be caught in the act on American soil? Some argue that anyone, be they American citizens or foreign nationals, is protected by our Constitution as soon as they set foot in the United States. But that is a separate debate that misses the point entirely. When talking about foreign national, violent extremists apprehended on American soil, one has to ask themselves the fundamental question of whether they believe the United States is at war with terrorism. If the answer is yes, then not only American but international legal precedent is clear: it allows for the military detention of these individuals, as they have clearly violated the terms of the Geneva Convention by targeting civilians and waging war out of uniform. If we choose to extend non-US citizens apprehended in the United States for acts of terrorism Constitutional protections, we are granting them a frivolous privilege, not a fundamental right.

The bottom line is that the administration needs to choose whether it treats terrorism as a law enforcement issue or a national security issue. It cannot, unfortunately, have it both ways. The United States must be consistent in its battle with violent extremism, not conducting military detentions overseas and civilian trials in the US. The current system is illogical and unsustainable, and it betrays President Obama’s discomfort with having to deal with the issue at all.

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