How Far Away is Standish, Michigan?

During my recent visit to Standish, Michigan, where I had been invited to advise and assist citizens who are opposed to relocation of Guantanamo detainees to Standish Max prison, I had the opportunity to speak with county and town officials at an open meeting.

One gentleman, obviously frustrated by Standish’s freefalling economy and desperate for the economic salvation promised by federal authorities with relocation, accused me of “ignorance and fear-mongering” when I spoke of the lure Gitmo terrorists would present for jihadists inside and outside of America.

Beslan, Russia, I had told the attendees, stands as a stark example of the lengths to which terrorists will go to make their nefarious point. They seek soft targets like schools, churches, and hospitals. “Can Standish or neighboring communities really afford such a terrible risk for the false promise of economic gain?” I asked.

It is well to remember than Usama bin Laden himself has said that two million American children must die to atone for imagined transgressions against Muslims.

“Don’t be silly,” one of the residents told Kelly Kimball, one of the members of the Michigan Coalition to Stop Gitmo North, when she heard these warnings. “That kind of thing could never happen here.”

Oh, really?

Breaking news last Tuesday highlighted the arrest of two Chicago men who planned to commit terrorist acts in Denmark in retaliation for the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed. American converts to Islam, the men had independently traveled to Denmark to assess targets and while there linked up with al Qaeda cells.

If home-grown terrorists are prepared to fly to Denmark they can certainly make their way to Standish.

Following hard on the heels was an alarming new story. On Wednesday a terrorist cell was broken up in nearby Dearborn, MI, a scant 146 miles from Standish Max. A home-grown Islam prison convert, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, formerly known as Christopher Thomas, was killed in a gunfight with FBI agents at his mosque. More than ten members of his cell remain at large . Abdullah, the FBI charges, was an acolyte of H. Rap Brown, who was issuing instructions from within the Florence Max super-prison in Colorado.

The prospect of terrorists attacking Standish, dismissed as ridiculous by several in the community, is now an in-your-face threat.

Nor can we be reassured that world-class terror leaders are so isolated in maximum security prisons that they cannot exert control over minions dispersed in local communities.

Over the past few weeks we have seen similar stories of arrests in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and North Carolina. Just as we have reduced al Qaeda ranks worldwide, our enemy is morphing, reacting to its losses by increasing recruiting efforts in the west and in the US, especially among native-born, radicalized converts.

Nor is Standish as isolated as its sleepy upstate location implies. A speed-limit two hour drive will access Standish from Dearborn, Michigan, home to upwards to 300,000 Muslims, many of whom have been steeped in the fundamentalist Islamic ideology of jihad.

The politically correct mindset shies from profiling or ethnic labeling. They tell us sincerely that fewer than 10% of Muslims adhere to violent theologically-driven jihad. Even if we generously cut that number by an order of magnitude, that still means that realistically there may be more than 3,000 Michigan residents who would react with anger – and act on that rage – within striking distance of Standish.

Again, the key question must be raised: are the false hopes of economic benefit and international image improvement worth risking the lives of innocents?

And, make no mistake: these are indeed false hopes. Relocating Guantanamo detainees anywhere would not alleviate what the administration falsely perceives is a geographical issue. By admitting that “some of these folks would have to be confined indefinitely” as President Obama has already said then relocation is a fool’s errand.

Moreover, “relocation” won’t be the end of the controversy. Opponents would not be satisfied and would quickly label any new facility as “the gulag of our times” as Amnesty International has called Gitmo. That kind of image does not square with the appeal that anyone in Michigan told me they want to have for their state.

And what about protests by ordinary Americans who do not want anyone locked up indefinitely without first being convicted? Holding the detainees inside the US under these circumstances raises a very legitimate Constitutional issue over future extra-judicial confinement.

Rather than an economic panacea, Standish, Arenac county, and Michigan state officials would unhappily find themselves burdened with enormously costly security requirements — all unfunded — imposed by the very presence of Guantanamo detainees in the prison. Sure, federal authorities, primarily DOD and DOJ, would run the prison, but all external security would be placed on local authorities.

One need only look at the example of the Zacharias Moussaoui trial in Alexandria, Virginia to see the crushing, unfunded expenses confining a single individual placed on community resources and taxpayers.

The costs of policing ordinary demonstrations can also be astronomical; just recently, the small town of Mount Vernon faced a $17,748.85 bill for police overtime alone after Fox commentator Glenn Beck visited for a single day. Who will  9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad alone attract, and what would the extravagant bill amount to for policing those demonstrations?     

Standish, with its single police officer, ought to feel overwhelmed by the prospect.

The mythical 1,000 promised jobs, the lure that continues to entice naive officials, would be filled not by state Department of Corrections personnel but by federal employees. As of latest reporting the administration plans a hybrid system of confinement – some military personnel, others in the Federal Corrections system – but little or no local hiring.

The community would be inundated with protesters running the full spectrum gamut of detainee supporters to opponents, attorneys for the detainees, and, before too long, terrorists intent on conducting an attack.

Some city council members lamely countered that “these people have to spend money, too,” as an argument for accepting Guantanamo detainees. Maybe some visitors will buy gas, eat at the restaurants, even spend a night or two at a local motel. Others will camp out in public areas, destroy property, tie up traffic, and pose a threat to local citizens.

Restaurant owner Dave Munson, who in the council’s scheme of things would stand to profit from a wave of visitors, is one of the more vocal opponents of relocation. “It would destroy our community,” he said.

Either way, the solution is not to relocate Guantanamo detainees to Standish or any other American community.

Unfortunately we are dealing with administration authorities who have developed a pattern of acting precipitately, without consultation.  The first that UK authorities learned about President Obama’s decision to transport Uighur detainees to Bermuda was when they arrived. Standish leaders to their ultimate frustration have been denied answers to basic questions from the administration and have been given partial, often misleading information at best.

Standish citizens and officials must be extraordinarily vigilant and demand full transparency before agreeing to any proposal.

The reality of the threat is real and far greater than many insulated Americans realize. This war is a tough enough fight as it is, there is no persuasive reason to make things easier for our enemies than painting an easy target for them on our communities.