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Articles | | Appointments & Policymakers, Borders, Congress Watch, Counterterrorism, Defense Budget & Programs, Europe, Foreign Policy, Latin America, Middle East, Russia, Waging War

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FRANK GAFFNEY: Welcome to Secure Freedom Radio. This is Frank Gaffney, your host and guide for what I think of as an intelligence briefing on the war for the free world. A woman very much in the front lines of that war, she has been in it for some time, in fact, including in combat in the United States Army. She is now in combat of a different kind in the United States Senate. She is Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. She spent twenty-three years of distinguished service in the United States Military and she continues with a very important role on the Armed Services Committee as well as the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the United States Senate, among others. Senator Ernst, it is terrific to have you back, thank you very much for taking a few minutes to join us.

Sen. JONI ERNST: Well, I am very glad to be here, thanks so much for having me.

FRANK GAFFNEY: Well, it’s a pleasure. You have been, as I say, very intimately involved for a long time now in this phase as what I think of as the war for the free world, including service in Iraq. And I wanted to talk with you a bit about the war there. It goes on, even though the President said it had stopped, of course. Currently, we are most engaged on the Islamic State front. You have put forward for some time now the idea that we do need a new authorization for the use of military force, and I’d like you to talk about, kind of where you think we are in that conflict at the moment and why an AUMF, as it’s called, is needed.

Sen. JONI ERNST: Yes, we still are engaged in war in Iraq and that war is with ISIS and we absolutely have to continue to push on and defeat ISIS, no matter where they are. And so I have been urging the Senate to take up a joint resolution for the Authorization for the use of Military Force, or what we call an AUMF. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation that was introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham, also another veteran, which will give President Obama every authority to fully engage, defeat and destroy ISIS, wherever they happen to be. This is an important step towards achieving a serious bipartisan solution to destroy them and those that are radicalized by ISIS. So, bottom line, this AUMF gives President Obama the authorization to go after ISIS again, wherever they are. And again, the AUMF that we’re proposing would allow the President to fully engage and go after ISIS no matter where they happen to be, and of course, those that are being radicalized by them as well. So, the President, his AUMF or his proposal, is much more limited, and I don’t want to tie a President’s hands, I think that this is such a group that we need to be able to fully engage them again, no matter where they are.

FRANK GAFFNEY: And you’ve emphasized that point. This is clearly a problem that has metastasized beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria for that matter. Where else are you thinking about, we may confront the Islamic State?

Sen. JONI ERNST: Well, we have seen the Islamic State spread from Syria into Iraq, they are in Northern Africa, they are in Afghanistan, we continue to see them spread. We’ve seen attacks in France, we’ve seen attacks even here in the United States, which are related to ISIS. So, no matter where these terrorists happen to be, we need to be able to engage them. They are spreading rapidly, and you know, the President will come out every so often and state that we have contained them, or we have degraded them, but those are stale talking points, because we have seen this organization continue to spread around the globe. We need the President with an authority to go after them no matter where they are, and I think by proposing such a limited AUMF from the White House, then he can say ‘Hey, I’m doing what I can, it’s not really my problem.’ My point is, we want to engage them no matter where they are.

FRANK GAFFNEY: Also, we’re seeing them in, I guess at least, a franchise in Nigeria these days, Boko Haram has expressed its loyalty, so this is indeed a metastasizing problem and I salute for you for understanding that it needs to be defeated. I hope were going to bring equal clarity to what it is we’re up against there, which it seems to me a hostile ideology, not just a group doing business under this particular banner. Let me turn to a related topic, that you’ve also been very much engaged in, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, and that is the future of a facility in Cuba, known as Guantanamo Bay, the President is determined to empty of the worst of the worst detainees there who have been involved in terrorism in the past and would surely turn to the battlefield if given an opportunity as I guess 30 percent of them have done to date. What do you make of what the President is up to now, the plan that he has submitted to you all, and the likelihood that he may violate the law to pursue this agenda of his?

Sen. JONI ERNST: Well, I am urging President Obama to reconsider this plan. I think it is a reckless plan, I have stated that many times over and I remain committed to working on behalf of, of course the security of the American people, our allies and our global community. We have seen about 30 percent of the Guantanamo Bay detainees return to the fight after their release, so I am deeply, deeply, concerned that the release or transfer of these terrorists that pose a direct threat to our safety and security. This is a fact that we have to consider, and I don’t believe the President is doing that.

FRANK GAFFNEY: You have served as I mentioned in uniform, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa National Guard. You have a sense therefore, I’m sure, that perhaps is considerably better than a lot of others, colleagues and the rest of us for that matter, of the importance of a facility like Guantanamo Bay for intelligence collection. Do you fear, as well, Senator, that we may well see vital assets in that regard lost if this facility were to be dismantled? God knows, perhaps turned over to the Cubans and thereby wind up in the hands of the Russians and Chinese to boot.

Sen. JONI ERNST: Right, that is one of the considerations and we do have National Guardsmen right now that are guarding the detainees in Guantanamo and I have actually gone to the facility, I have observed the detention procedures, and I have met with military commanders and the service members that have served at Guantanamo Bay. I saw first hand just how vital the operations there are, in insuring our national security. So of course, intelligence collection is important, information that the detainees may pass along is very important to us, as well as making sure that these detainees are kept behind secured, closed doors. They are a danger, again, to the United States population; to populations the world over. I just want to emphasize again, 30 percent of Guantanamo Bay detainees return to the fight after they’re released, that is a fact.

FRANK GAFFNEY: And, one last question on this, Senator. I was very heartened to see one of your House colleagues, Mike Pompeo and I think fifteen of his colleagues who like you, were veterans of the armed forces, signing a letter out to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, back in November, urging them to seek legal counsel should they be given an order by this president to bring, you know, these detainees here against the law. And there was a note back, as you may know, that I think was received in just the past two weeks, but was dated in January from a Lieutenant General running the Joint Chiefs of Staff organization, saying we’re not going to violate restrictions on the movement of these detainees. As a veteran, as a serving member of the United States Senate, I assume you would find that a heartening sign that you’re going to see your colleagues in uniform not violate an unlawful order.

Sen. JONI ERNST: Right, exactly, and we have to remember that it is illegal for the Obama administration to transfer any of these Gitmo detainees into the United States. There were measures that were included in the 2016 Omnibus Bill and the administration is also barred from constructing any facility on U.S. soil meant to house these detainees or inmates. So, it is illegal and it is great to see Congressman Pompeo, he’s a great collaborator over on the House side with me, but it is wonderful to see our veterans stand up because of any of our population here in Congress that understands this dire situation, it is those of us who have served in uniform and have witnessed these terrorists, you know, first hand.

FRANK GAFFNEY: You have indeed. Thank you for all that you do to spare us their further predations, Senator Joni Ernst, we’re very grateful to you for your service in uniform and now in the Senate and for joining us from time to time, I look forward to talking to you again very soon.

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