Question 6: Considering the successes and failures in the years since 9/11, how would you change U.S. policy to effectively combat the threat of global and domestic terrorism? Specifically, how would you respond to the threat of Islamist extremism without violating civil liberties and without alienating moderate Muslims in the U.S. and across the globe?
Response from President Obama
My highest priority as Commander-in-Chief is to protect the American people from the threats we face. That's why, upon taking office, I re-focused our efforts on taking the fight to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to decimating the group that attacked us on 9/11. America is safer today because Osama bin Laden and more than two-thirds of the top leaders of core al-Qaeda have been taken off the battlefield. But we will remain vigilant, because we know the threat of terrorism has not been erased completely.
At the same time we aggressively pursue those who wish to do us harm, I have made it clear that the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. We reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And al-Qaeda has killed people of many faiths - but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Going forward, we know that our best offense will not involve deploying large ground forces abroad but delivering targeted pressure to those who threaten our security.
But military power alone won't solve the problem of violent extremism. America's national security is also strengthened when we address the political, economic, and social conditions that can be exploited by terrorist groups. America will continue to support the structural conditions that reduce terrorist recruitment and promote peace, opportunity, and respect for universal rights throughout the world.
Finally, I reject the false distinction between liberty and security. I am committed to upholding the rule of law here at home, including defending the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the American people. And that's why, in my first week in office, I banned torture and closed CIA secret prisons overseas. I firmly believe that we don't have to choose between living our values and protecting our nation.
Response from Governor Mitt Romney
As president, I will ensure all relevant military, intelligence, and homeland security agencies have the appropriate legal authority and policy guidance they need to dismantle terrorist groups and prevent terrorist attacks at home and abroad.
To combat domestic terrorism, we will design better frameworks to share intelligence "horizontally" across agencies, as well as "vertically" with state and local authorities. We will also continue to deploy "fusion centers" and other innovative systems to collect and systematically analyze information about domestic activities and communications among terrorist networks and people within our borders. We must also bolster partnerships with Muslim-American communities, build trust in the spirit of "community policing," work with community leaders to identify threats and suspicious activity, develop our database of knowledge about the hallmarks of radicalization and recruitment, and train local and state authorities to understand those hallmarks and act on them at the earliest appropriate moment.
I would work to bolster cyber security with a unified strategy and improved inter-agency coordination.
I will work with Congress to unify the over 108 authorizing committees and subcommittees in Congress that oversee the Department of Homeland Security. Reducing the number of authorizing committees responsible for the Department will allow its professionals to spend time focused on operational tasks instead of reporting and testifying to Congress, as well as clarify its mission by eliminating inconsistent mandates and priorities.
To protect our civil liberties, I will require our counterterrorism strategy to contain measures to balance the increased capabilities of our analytic technologies against legitimate concerns about the preservation of our constitutional rights.
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