Former AG to Durbin: Gitmo to Illinois Job Claim 'Absurd'

“Absurd, if not obscene” is how former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey characterized the recent claim by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that relocating terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois will create new jobs in the surrounding area.

In an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS yesterday, Mukasey replied to claims by Durbin, in both remarks outside the White House and in an article in The Hill, that the move of nearly 100 Guantanamo prisoners to the Illinois-based facility “will have a tremendously positive impact on the local economy — creating more than 3500 jobs and injecting more than $1 billion into the local economy.”

“I think that increasing the risk for citizens in this country as a jobs program is absurd, if not obscene,” said Mukasey, who served as the nation’s top law enforcement official from 2006-08.  Earlier this month, the Administration announced that it was re-opening the Thomson center in Illinois after it had been closed for the past eight years to house the detainees currently at Guantanamo.

Gibbs’ Gitmo Comments Also Absurd, Says Mukasey

Mukasey also used the term “absurd” to describe remarks White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made about closing Guantanamo at a briefing for reporters December 15th.

“Closing Guantanamo makes this country safer,” Gibbs said at the time, referring to criticism of closing the facility from House Republican Leader John Boehner.  “Here’s what I would suggest for John Boehner. Call up [CIA Director] Leon Panetta or Denny Blair at the CIA or the Director of National Intelligence.  Ask them if he can come down and watch a video put out by al Qaeda senior leadership like — the names we recognize — Zawahri.  Thirty two times since 2001, and four times this year alone, senior al Qaeda leadership and recruiting videos have used the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a clarion call to bring extremists from around the world to join their effort.”  

“I think you have to understand the difference between a reason and a pretext,” Mukasey shot back, “The fact is that al Qaeda recruited people and people attacked this country before there was a Guantanamo.  We were attacked in ’93, the U.S.S. Cole, Cobart Tower, they attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and they attacked us on 9/11 — all prior to the establishment of Guantanamo.  

“So somehow the fact that Guantanamo is a major recruiting tool for al Qaeda is absurd.  The best recruiting tool for al Qaeda is success.  The major recruiting tool for al Qaeda was 9/11. 

“There is a notion that every time there is something that the left objects to, it is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  We heard that Abu Graib [prison] was a recruiting for al Qaeda.  Everything that is rejected to by people with an agenda is regarded as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda.

“In fact, the doctrines of extreme Islam are the recruiting tools for Islam and it’s time we faced up to that,” warned Mukasey.

The former attorney general and U.S. District Court judge went on to say that if there was anything about Guantanamo that was a possible recruitment tool, it’s the policy of indefinite detention.  In his words, “[The Administration] has proposed to put them in a place that is less comfortable from their standpoint, as they are about to find out.”

Terrorist Attack on New York Trial “Increased Likelihood”

Mukasey, who presided over the trial in New York of the “Blind Sheikh” in 1993, addressed the coming trial in New York of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and four other terrorists transferred from Guantanamo.

As for the trial itself, Mukasey believes that its commencement “will be measured in years, not months.  That’s the commencement.  I think we’re at least a year, probably two, from the opening statements.”  

“The judge assigned to this case will handle it as best as he or she can,” Mukasey told us, “But you start with the fact that this difficulty is unnecessary [italics added].   There was a mechanism in place — military commissions — for trying these people.  We’ve had military commissions since the Revolutionary War.  We’re still going to have them.  The Obama Administration has agreed that they are valid by sending the people charged with bombing the U.S.S. Cole to a military commission.  

“This [transfer to civilian court in New York] is entirely unnecessary.  It is centrally a gesture, supposedly to prove that our processes are fair.  We’ve proved this many times over, but the terrorists don’t seem to be impressed.”

As to any enhanced danger in moving the Gitmo detainees to New York for trial, native New Yorker Mukasey said: “The fact is New York City is a prime target and has been a prime target since the beginning of al Qaeda.  It’s a big city and a big stage.  It’s a media center and a financial center.  All this [the relocation] does is focus attention on the city so as to enhance the possibility that a terrorist attack would receive even more attention than it might receive.”  

Although he does not believe there is any chance of the terrorists being freed from the Manhattan Corrections Center (MCC) where they will be held, Mukasey added that “the idea is for terrorists to bring attention to their agenda and to what they are trying to promote.  A terrorist attack during a trial like that would be a big publicity score for the people who pulled it off.”

Is that an increased likelihood with the change of venue to New York, we asked?

“Of course, it’s an increased likelihood,” said Mukasey.