President Obama's counterterrorism chief acknowledged Saturday that the country is safer since the attacks of September 11, 2001, saying that government actions have made the nation "less hospitable" to terrorism. But he also called some of the precautions taken after the attacks "over the top".
John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, told Islamic law students at NYU that the Bush administration, "deserves a lot of praise and credit for the work they did after 9/11 as far as making this country safer and stronger," but countered that statement by saying that prejudice and discrimination have threatened national security. "Over the years the actions of our own government have at times perpetuated those attitudes: violations of the patriot act, surveillance that has been excessive, policies perceived as profiling, over-inclusive no fly lists subjecting law-abiding individuals to unnecessary searches and inconvenience." He promised the largely Muslim audience that the Obama administration strives to make civil rights and civil liberties a priority.
Brennan praised the current White House for its efforts to reach out to the Muslim community, saying that he's witnessed a willingness and eagerness from other nations to partner with the United States with President Obama now in the White House. He implied that post-9/11 actions, such as the decision to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, put the U.S. at a disadvantage with its allies. "There was a perception that gathered worldwide after that invasion of Iraq that really viewed us through a prism that saw military adventurism," Brennan said, "right or wrong, that's what the perception was."
His remarks come on the same day that President Obama appointed a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 57-nation body which refers to itself as "the collective voice of the Muslim world". The President announced the appointment of Rashad Hussain in a video message to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum Saturday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the forum on Sunday in Doha, Qatar.
Brennan defended President Obama's decision to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay and close the facility, despite the fact that a recent inter-agency report found that released prisoners have returned to the battlefield at a rate of 20 percent. "[In] the American penal system the recidivism rate is upward of about 50 percent or so," Brennan said, "...20 percent isn't that bad." He said that the Obama administration has tried to put in place a more rigorous review of the transfers.
TRIAL FOR 9/11 MASTERMIND
Brennan said he believes that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in an American court, but admit that there are logistical and funding issues that have to be looked at before committing the trial to New York City. The White House has waivered on the venue in the wake of a growing chorus of opposition, and the administration has not ruled out the possibility of a military trial. Brennan blamed "stiff winds" and "obstructionism" for delaying the trial, adding that he hopes a decision is settled on soon for the sake of the victims and their families.
Brennan's responses to questions about the middle east conflict were met with audible groans, as he defended Israel's right to protect itself while maintaining that the Obama administration supports a two-state solution. "It's tough, but we're not going to separate ourselves from Israel," Brennan said. He reiterated his stance again, after one student told him his first answer was a disappointment. Brennan referred to the conflict as "twelve-dimensional chess" and implied that the peace process is a long one, despite high expectations from both sides when President Obama took office. He added that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is at the forefront of the President's mind, and engaging both sides is crucial, but insisted that Israel has legitimate security concerns that the U.S. recognize.