A matter of congressional oversight
By Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.)
In the past week I have often heard variations of the question: “Why would Congress be spending its time with hearings about the attempted radicalization of American Muslim youth?"
For me, that is the wrong question. The proper inquiry is why has it taken so long for the Homeland Security Committee of the House to follow up on the hearings held by one of its subcommittees in Torrance, California in April 2007. That hearing, presided over by then Subcommittee Chair Jane Harman (D-Calif.), concentrated on the narrower issue of the attempted radicalization by Islamic Extremists in our prison population.
We forget at our peril the conclusion of the 9-11 Commission that our major shortcoming in the months and years before that successful attack on our shores was the failure to “connect the dots.” So what are some of the current dots confronting us? We were told but a few weeks ago in testimony by National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter that the strategy of al Qaeda is evolving toward “propaganda efforts designed to inspire like-minded individuals to conduct attacks in their home countries.” The Attorney General has stated that the issue before us “is one of the things that keeps me up at night.”
The suggestion that Congress cannot consider one thing unless it considers other things is simply not the way this Body has ever operated. We often focus on one issue at a time. In my previous stint in this Body we established the Commission on War Time Relocation which focused on the specific issue of Japanese Americans who had been ripped from their homes and placed in relocation camps. I served as Vice Chairman of that Commission. However, it was not until my present service in the Congress that I joined with my colleague Xavier Becerra in introducing legislation to establish a commission to examine the related but distinct question of the internment of Japanese Latin Americans who were placed in U.S. internment camps.
In the 110th Congress, our Judiciary Committee looked at horrific crimes which had been committed against African Americans decades earlier. We then passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 which directed the Attorney General to investigate crimes committed against African-Americans where the violation occurred before January 1, 1970 and resulted in death. This involved a specific and deadly threat to a specific group of individuals during a shameful period in our nation’s history. But it was a valid focus.
One of the most significant goals of our hearing is to provide a platform for the moderate voices of the American Muslim community during a time of great stress. The personal anguish and sense of loss by family members of those targeted by extremists is something which we should seek to comprehend if we are to fully understand the impact of radicalization.
Adirizak Bihi will paint a picture for our committee about his beloved nephew, Burhan Hassan. Burhan was a good student who excelled in high school and dreamed of attending Harvard University. However, unbeknownst to his mother and uncle, Burhan came under the influence of elements in his Riverside Minnesota community connected with the Somali terror group al Shabaab. Literally in the dead of night Burhan disappeared. His family would learn of his trek to Somalia where his young life would ultimately come to an end in a shooting death.
Similarly, Melvin Bledsoe has a heartbreaking story of how his son, Carlos, went off to college in Nashville where he was targeted for radicalization. While parents are often surprised to learn new things about their children when they return home on school breaks, Carlos became engaged with other family members in heated discussions over his interpretation of the Muslim religion. On another visit, he tore Martin Luther King’s picture from his wall and subsequently took the name Abdulhakim Muhammad. His radicalization would lead to training camps in Yemen and back to the United States. This story would also have a tragic conclusion where Private William Long would lose his life, and Quinton Ezeagwula would be seriously wounded in a violent shooting rampage by Mr. Muhammad at a Little Rock Army recruiting office.
These stories illustrate clearly that those targeted, their families and other innocent Americans are in a real sense victims of a radical extremist ideology that threatens the safety of our communities and places beyond our shoreline. There can be no doubt that this is an entirely legitimate concern of the Congress and an appropriate matter for oversight.
Rep. Dan Lungren is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.