Many have attempted to portray President Barack Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo detention facility in partisan terms. Rather, opposition to that decision — and concern over potential consequences that might result — has been one of the unifying issues of his administration, albeit unintended.
Opposition is both strong and united — despite the complexity and sensitivity — because of the clarity of the dangers it poses to American citizens. Just as terrorists who crashed aircraft into buildings on 9/11 did not check the voter registration of victims, neither will jihadists intent on making a statement dither over party affiliations of hostages.
Closure of Gitmo poses a universal danger.
What exactly is at stake?
At the moment, discussion revolves around a core of terrorists — perhaps as many as 180 would be considered for relocation to U.S. soil — who have been distilled through legal processes instituted by the Department of Defense to deal with them from the original group of approximately 780 originally transported to Guantanamo or added over time.
These men are, as terrorism expert Dr. Peter Leitner describes them, the “rock stars of the Islamic terrorist world.” Among them are planners of the 9/11 attacks, the bombings of US African embassies, USS Cole bombers, Usama bin Laden’s bodyguards, the Bali bombing, and more.
Included in their number are several well-educated men, ideologically driven to destroy America, Israel, and western civilization. An electrical engineer (who received his MS from Purdue University), two money-laundering experts who received advanced degrees from London School of Economics, pilots and flight engineers with degrees from Embry-Riddle, and others are among the Taliban and al Qaeda operators who led missions against U.S. and other countries.
All have bloody hands, much of it from Muslim victims who failed to meet the rigid requirements of their fundamentalist beliefs.
Bringing these men to U.S. soil — whether for military or civilian trial or, as the president as affirmed, to continue indefinite detention — would be a gross error in judgment.
The danger, as proponents of the move misunderstand it, is not from them escaping. Any of the facilities short-listed by the administration ought to be able to confine them adequately. As several have said, facilities like Florence Colorado Max hold convicted terrorists safely.
But one reason they can do so is that to date there are no well-financed groups of violent men trying to break them out of these jails. The difference is the danger that arises from relocating Gitmo inmates en masse to any location in the U.S. Such a relocation would transform the destination into a magnet for committed jihadists to descend upon with the intent of terrorizing local communities or attempting a spectacular incident to affect their release.
Some dismiss this worry as mere fear mongering, but sufficient precedent exists for legitimate concern. Chechen terrorists held schoolchildren and teachers hostage in Beslan, Russia in 2004 as bargaining chips to force release of their fellows held prisoner. In the ensuing chaos children and teachers were brutally raped and murdered, with a death toll exceeding 300.
Similar incidents in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, and across the world reinforce the terrorist tactics of preying on children and using them as innocent pawns in their deadly fight. Author Paul Williams notes that Bin Laden himself believes that two million American children must die to atone for ills that the terror leaders attributes to the Great Satan.
To paint such a target on American citizens is irresponsible. It compounds poor judgment to lay such a burden on small, isolated communities, such as Standish, Mich.
I’ve been to Standish. It’s a small town — about 1500 people — whose citizens are both unequipped and unprepared to deal with the possible threat. This does not reflect poorly on Standish: in truth no U.S. village, town or city is prepared or equipped for such consequences.
What of the goal of “changing America’s poor image” by relocating detainees? Mere geography is not at issue here. Any new location for the detainees would immediately be classified as the “gulag of our time,” as Amnesty International and others characterize it.
Guantanamo opponents argue that the U.S. is not justified in holding any of these men in confinement without appropriate legal procedures. Since distrust of the military runs high in such circles, opponents are dissatisfied with the current system of reviews and tribunals and insist that trials be held in civilian courts.
The outcome of such trials are speculative at best. In many cases evidence to meet courtroom standards is either unavailable (soldiers are not trained forensic specialists) or is highly classified. The process of discovery alone would cause release of sensitive information that might endanger lives and compromise current operations. Attorney and writer Andrew McCarthy has detailed the consequences of such frivolous release based on his experience in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in which bin Laden himself was named openly, driving the terror leader into deeper hiding.
Not addressed, but lightly brushed over by administration officials, is the concept of confining indefinitely men who they acknowledge continue to pose a threat to the US but against whom sufficient evidence is not present to go to full trial. The US Supreme Court has already accepted a case to decide if courts can take from the Executive Branch the power to decide if certain people can be brought into the United States.
This could mean release into the U.S. of Gitmo inmates (beginning with several Chinese Uigher detainees). But which of the “al-Quaida all-stars” or other terrorists could be set loose in America?
Conversely, confinement at Guantanamo under military authorities for “duration of hostilities” is an internationally recognized standard and fully in consonance with Geneva Accords.
In an attempt to convince communities to accept the Gitmo detainees, lures of economic benefit have been offered. Promises of “1,000 new jobs” in financially hard-hit areas like Standish have induced some residents and local leaders to dismiss objections as minor compared to the silver bullet of economic recovery.
Unfortunately these gilt-edged promises turn out to be ephemeral. The jobs? Mostly DOD or DOJ professionals who will be assigned at best temporarily to a facility. Few locals would be hired. In fact, Standish Max guards and administrators have already been pink-slipped.
Few jobs but many new security requirements — unfunded mandates imposed upon the state and community to augment Federal security for the facility and local area. One cogent example, the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui, resulted in millions of dollars lost to Northern Virginia communities in emergency services deployment and overtime costs while concomitantly degrading response time to community needs.
From all perspectives: national security, image, and economic benefits, the relocation of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. fails the test. A more positive approach would be for the administration to acknowledge the benefits of retaining the detention facility at Gitmo and embarking on an aggressive program to inform Americans and the world of just why it is so essential to our safety.