There has been much debate over the past year, and longer than that, about where the United States should house detainees still being held in the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A plan initiated by President Obama last year is slow to come to fruition due to logistical issues, a lot of NIMBYness from politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as warnings about the rise of attempted attacks on the U.S. should we move terrorists inland.
The talking point from Republicans and hawkish Democrats during this time has been that placing the remaining detainees in a prison within the borders of the United States would make create a security risk. I haven’t actually seen many specifics on what exactly the threat would be, but my inference is that the target would either be the prison or the community surrounding it.
This position was taken up again today by NRO’s Andrew McCarthy, who thinks that moving the detainees to a stateside prison would be a mistake. However, I think McCarthy makes a better argument in favor of moving the detainees stateside than he does for keeping them in Gitmo.
From McCarthy’s article (emph. mine):
The Left’s counter to this is the claim that Gitmo fuels terrorist recruitment. That is absurd, and, as I’ve said before, confuses a pretext with a cause. People in the Islamic world could not care less whether we are detaining Muslim terrorists based on civilian protocols or under the laws of war: They don’t know the difference. The Blind Sheikh’s disciples mass-murdered people in an attempt to extort his release despite the fact that he is in a nice civilian jail after having had his nice civilian trial. What offends many in the umma is that we are holding Muslim terrorists, period. They don’t care where.
He’s right on one thing. They don’t care where we hold them.
Despite the fact that most of our detainees remain in Guantanamo Bay, a Yemeni national tried to blow a plane out of the sky on Christmas Day. Also, despite the fact that several actual enemy combatants are in civilian prisons right now, not one terrorist who has tried to attack us since 9/11 has actually gone near one of those prisons.
True, the underwear bomber was trying to kill people near Denver, Colorado. Let us not forget that both Richard Reid and Zacharias Moussaoi are held in Florence, which is 2 1/2 hours away. So based on the warnings we’ve heard from Republicans, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab ought to have waited until the plane landed and then headed for Florence. But he didn’t. Instead, he tried to set his bomb off while still in the air.
Of the other foiled terror plots since 9/11, most have been planned for New York City or surrounding areas, a couple for D.C., and one for Seattle. All cities. Clearly Al-Qaeda continues to prefer going for the grand effect, and I’m not sure that blowing up a prison would achieve that. While I don’t wish to discount the loss of life of servicemen and women, and other prison staff that would occur, it seems to me that terrorists would still much rather kill civilians and cripple our economic centers. You don’t do that by blowing up a prison or going for the low population community surrounding it. You do that by going where it hurts the most: the cities.
That page lists 19 plots foiled (18 if you don’t count their inclusion of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed). Eighteen, and that was before there was any talk of closing Gitmo. Andrew McCarthy is right: they don’t care where we hold the detainees. Whether Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Florence, Colorado; or Thomson, Illinois, they’re still going to try and kill us. Add on to the fact that a future Thomson facility is likely to have security above even that of current supermaxes, and I think it highly unlikely that any terrorists with more than a pea for a brain will try to target it, just as they haven’t tried to target the current locations of terrorists in the past nine years.
In the end, I’m actually fairly indifferent about where we hold them. I don’t take much stock in the argument by liberals that McCarthy highlights: that holding them in Gitmo is increasing the recruitment of new terrorists. Terrorist recruitment is going to happen anyway, and their recruiters will always find some reason to appeal to people, whether Gitmo remains open or it is closed. I’m more concerned about relevant problems, and the real issues are not where we hold convicted (and non-yet-convicted) terrorists. It’s stopping the ones who are free right now from trying to plan and execute their plots, as well as not releasing terrorists back to countries where they will just be freed to go and take up arms again. That must be the real focus, not this petty bickering on where we hold them.
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