Congressman John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) will introduce a bill this week mandating that terrorist detainees held at Guantanamo Bay be kept out of America when the prison is shut down.
From the moment President Obama signed the executive order to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, lawmakers have been trying to figure out where the prisoners will go. About 60 of the 241 detainees in the prison are suitable for release. However, many of their home countries won’t take them because of the terrorist threat they pose, and Obama won’t release them back to countries that might treat them too harshly according to the president’s view of human rights.
So where do they go? At the moment, no one seems to know. And the possibility that some could be put in U.S. prisons — and eventually released into the American population — causes huge concerns. Shadegg believes that bringing Guantanamo prisoners onto American soil is not only wrong, but also dangerous and a threat to national security.
His bill, HR 1238, says that “no detainee may be brought to the United States… for any purpose, temporary or permanent, including admission as a refugee.” Shadegg explained that the idea behind the bill is that “these people are dangerous, they were taken to a location outside the United States initially for a good reason: we are in a unique circumstance, a War on Terror.”
In any other circumstance, the United States would hold these detainees in whichever nation they are captured or somewhere else overseas. But this multi-front war creates the difficulty of detaining prisoners, a task made doubly difficult by U.S. courts which have granted the Guantanamo detainees the right to habeas corpus — the right under our Constitution allowing prisoners to challenge their detention as unlawful. The fact that the law of war allows us to detain these people indefinitely — as the Supreme Court has also ruled proper — creates a doubly-confused legal mess. Now that Guantanamo’s detention facility is closing, the risk of bringing some of these detainees into our borders is growing.
There are multiple risks involved. First is the right of asylum. Shadegg believes that bringing these people to America requires deciding “precisely what additional rights they get.” As of now this is not clear.
Under U.S. law, terrorists are not entitled to asylum even on U.S. soil. But there is always the risk that once a detainee is transferred here, a court could determine that he is no longer a “terrorist” and then this former detainee would be able to apply for asylum and release.
Other security risks involve the type of prisons that these detainees would be kept in. Most of the high security prisons are, according to Shadegg, “over 100 percent capacity.” Bringing the detainees here would add extremely dangerous people to an already high risk place.
Plus, in American prisons, there is the presence of radical Islam. If a radical Islamist were placed in the presence of these disaffected potential followers, there is, according to Shadegg, “the danger of recruiting more terrorists.”
Shadegg also emphasized that bringing radical Islamic terrorists to these prisons causes a shock wave of risk that would fan out into the community. He said that it would be like “drawing a bull’s eye on that prison, every prison guard and every family member of that prison guard.” And the prisons themselves would become likely targets for terrorist attacks aimed at freeing their allies inside.
Shadegg believes that U.S. prisons “are not designed, nor the systems that create them, to hold terrorists or people that might need to be held for life.”
This situation is a threat that has not been thought through as much as many in Congress would like. Shadegg emphasized that the decision to close Guantanamo Bay is a glaring denial of the risks involved. He sees it as something that was decided because some Americans see Guantanamo as an embarrassment. Shadegg said that “it’s an embarrassment based on irrationality.”
And there is more to come. In a March 8 interview with the New York Times, President Obama said his goal would be to eventually allow habeas corpus rights to all terrorist detainees, not just those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The dangers Shadegg forsees are just the beginning.