Foreign Policy

Terrorists in the Heartland?

It's time to chill out about Obama's efforts to close Guantanamo.


The idea of having an al-Qaida presence in Illinois, even locked up behind bars, is a horrifying prospect. That's what we have to confront now that the Obama administration has decided to move some Guantanamo inmates to a prison in Thomson, a small town in the northwest corner of the state. How will we sleep nights with terrorists in our midst?

Probably about like we do right now. From the shrieks of alarm, you'd think no bloodthirsty jihadist had ever occupied a cell in one of our correctional facilities. As it turns out, there are already some 35 domestic and international terrorists privileged to reside in the Land of Lincoln.

Run into any at Wal-Mart lately? Seen one cut in line at Dunkin' Donuts? Me neither.

Just a few weeks ago, a federal judge sentenced Ali al-Marri, a convicted al-Qaida sleeper agent who had undergone terrorist training and met with alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to eight years behind bars. A former student at Bradley University in Peoria, he is now serving his term at the federal prison in Marion. Yet Illinoisans have somehow stifled their impulse to curl up into the fetal position awaiting certain doom.

A lot of politicians nonetheless insist the risk of relocating detainees to Thomson is intolerable. All seven Republican House members from Illinois vehemently object.

They signed a letter drafted by Rep. Mark Kirk predicting the state would become "ground zero for jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization" and insisting that "al-Qaida terrorists should stay where they cannot endanger American citizens."

Being locked up in what will become a supermax prison, however, means they will be in a place where they can no more endanger American citizens than they can party with Paris Hilton. If housing jihadists would provoke attacks here, why hasn't Osama bin Laden carried out massacres in Florence, Colo., whose supermax penitentiary holds several terrorists?

Kirk warns that an inmate who needs more than routine medical care will have to get it at the nearest military hospital, which happens to be in his district—raising all sorts of security risks. Fear not. No inmate has ever left Guantanamo for treatment. The Pentagon says it won't move anyone to Thomson until it ensures the medical unit can "handle all foreseeable detainee health conditions, just as it has done at Guantanamo for the past seven years."

A common theme among Republicans running for senator and governor is that the inmates shouldn't be moved anywhere, because there is no reason to close Guantanamo. Obama's decision, charges Senate candidate Patrick Hughes, is just keeping "a campaign promise to an antiwar, left-wing" faction of his party.

But it's not just Birkenstock-shod peaceniks who support the idea. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell has endorsed it. So has Gen. David Petraeus.

Last year, John McCain vowed to close Gitmo if he became president. There were other presidential candidates who disagreed. You know what? They lost.

The opponents see no risk in keeping Guantanamo open and no gain in getting rid of it. But plenty of military people think the status quo is about as satisfactory as a dead skunk in the living room.

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora told Congress that high-ranking officers "maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq—as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat—are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."

The Bush administration's purpose in putting the captives at the U.S. naval base in Cuba was to keep them beyond the reach of federal courts, so it could do whatever struck the fancy of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly asserted that Guantanamo cannot be a lawless zone. The executive branch has to follow the Constitution even there.

Moving the prisoners to American soil would affirm the startling proposition that we consider ourselves bound by the rule of law. It wouldn't make veteran terrorists give up the fight. But it would deprive them of an emblem of torture and abuse that inspires anti-American fury and endangers American lives.

When the detainees arrive here, I predict, Illinoisans will pay attention for about five minutes and then go on calmly with their lives. At least the grownups will.


NEXT: Gary Johnson: the "Next Ron Paul"?

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  1. Bonus! That prison is shovel-ready for stimulus dollars. Estimates are 3 million more jobs saved.

  2. The whole “ground zero for jihadists” complaint is an indicator of how craven Republicans are on this issue. The real story, as Suki noted, is how the administration will seize any opportunity to invent jobs for “the people,” money no object. A prison built to house 1600 inmates will soon house just a few hundred. Oddly, more jobs will be “created” than actual persons living there. Maybe a “job” will be defined by how many pairs of boots the applicant purchases.

    1. Don’t worry, if there is one thing we’re good at it’s filling prisons.

      1. But this one was mostly unfilled for a long time.
        Have we finally reached Peak Prisoner?

        1. Unfilled, jeez, its all them criminals getting off on technicalities and them liberal judges. If only there was a politician that had the guts to “get tough on crime”.

          1. On the bright side, there may be thousands or millions of potential criminals just over the horizon, in the form of health-insurance scofflaws. Pay up or bed down with the jihadists in Illinois. After all, if you don’t join the gang of the insured, aren’t you really a terrorist?

  3. Chapman, did you think of things like this?

    1. OK, something of a valid concern. How about posting a few Marines with handheld Stinger SAMs at the prison? Problem solved.

    2. Yeah. If only we had some 70,000 soldiers deployed in a friendly European country that we haven’t had an issue with in sixty years that we could withdraw and have form an impenetrable wall of military might to guard against such attacks….

  4. Interesting take Suki. I wonder if it would just not be cheaper to keep the detainees right where they are, since they have what is required to detain them already, instead of refurbishing a new federal supermax prison.

    I get Chapman’s subtle point of view about bringing them here complete with rights extended to citizens. I tend to disagree with this concept as they are enemy combatants and subject to military tribunal.

    Gitmo and Abu-Garaib as being foci of terrorist ire is a red herring to me: America and its Western ideals is the epicenter all that is evil and unclean.

    1. Maybe this will help change your mind.…..inst-milit

      1. Yeah, I read wrong, went to tab out and then clicked submit instead, apologies. /facepalm

      2. Read both the arguments and the subsequent posts regarding.

        I am convinced that Authorized Use of Military Force constitutes a declaration of war, even if it lacks the word “war” specifically. I also consider 9/11 to be a formal, if unwritten, act of war.

        Therefore, tribunals are appropriate and I see little problem with GITMO.

        OTOH, if by Presidential order, The One wishes to close GITMO and incarcerate the detainees here under the same conditions, fine. I would personally prefer the detainees remain where they are, since it is already established as a detention center. It is how they are tried is the area of consistency that concerns me most.

        1. Guantanamo should be judged by its effectiveness in recruiting democratic voters. It became a rallying cry because Bush’s antagonists needed some way to make rights-conscious voters feel somehow threatened by the indefinite detainment of foreign nationals captured on a battlefield.

          Now that the Bush’s antagonists are in charge, they’re going to follow through by… doing what exactly? changing the address on the detainment camp? Why not just change the name to Superhappyfun Bay? That will hopefully discourage recruitment of enemy fighters.

          Speaking of discouraging recruitment… now that Gitmo’s closed, I’m sure the terrorists won’t hate us any more! Yippee!

          Of course, Abu Ghraib has been closed for years now, and according to Mr. Chapman’s article, that’s STILL being used as a recruiting tool. So how many years until Gitmo stops being a recruitment tool?

          Wait a minute, come to think of it, the 9/11 attacks preceded both Gitmo AND Abu Ghraib! However did those crafty terrorists ever manage to recruit before dopey Bush came to office??

          On second thought, let’s dispose of the fiction that terrorists give a crap about our detainment policies. They are xenophobic theocrats, not indignant champions of natural rights. They may have to learn a new anti-America buzzword now that Guantanamo is closed, but I’m pretty sure they’ll manage.

          A note for my fellow libertarians: extending civil liberties to foreign battlefields is not going to increase liberty domestically. If anything, it’s going to undercut it. If you use habeas review to try to protect non-citizens captured in foreign lands — people it was never intended to protect — all it’s going to do is erode the habeas standard for everyone as courts try to preserve executive war power. If you like civil liberties, the last thing you want is a terrorist in front of the SCotUS during a time of widespread panic.

          In theory at least, the war is being conducted so as to protect our liberties. If you’re against the war, fine, but don’t confuse being anti-war with being anti-coherent. We’ve shipped hundreds of thousands of men with guns halfway across the world to capture or kill these people. It doesn’t make sense to treat them like run-of-the-mill prisoners.

        2. I also consider 9/11 to be a formal, if unwritten, act of war.

          So, the 9/11 guys are warriors? Not to me, they aren’t. But I guess I’m in the minority.

          1. This isn’t the first time the WTC was attacked. People connected to the first bombing were tried in federal court and are serving prison sentences now.

            If acts of aggression of non-uniformed non-state personnel can equate war. Then one shouldn’t have a problem with the drug war, since there is a violence connection.

            And while we discuss what rights forgieners should have in our courts, consider the hikers in custody in Iran. Should they have any rights at all?

  5. Bring them to trial already!

  6. I’m sure that moving the prisoners from a sunny tropical location to Illinois will fill the prisoners with HOPE. They’re sure to appreciate the CHANGE.

  7. I’m fine with moving the detainees to Illinois, but I think it’s nothing but a symbolic move. The problem with Guantanamo isn’t Guantanamo itself. It’s the fact that the detainees imprisoned there have largely been held without trial of any kind, whether it be military commissions or a trial in civilian courts. If nobody intends to change that, this move seems to be just sound and fury.

    1. Winning comment. The Democrats are spraining their shoulders patting themselves on the back for their “devotion to the rule of law” but in reality they have no more use for it than Dick Cheney.

    2. Agree 10000%.

  8. Harold and Kumar Escape from Thomson Illinois sure sounds like a crappy movie!

  9. So Illinois politicians are flat out saying that prisons built, maintained and staffed by Illinois union members are obviously prone to escapes?

    1. Well, you have to remember their basic premise: the Gitmo inmates are all super-terrorists who cannot be contained by mere walls. They can’t escape from Gitmo because of the magic pixie dust in the soil there. But Illinois, alas, lacks such dust.

      Also, Jack Bauer has never been to Illinois and can’t find it on a map. So we’re in mortal danger!!!

      1. So some people can’t tell the difference between a ticket to a maximum security prison and a ticket to Disneyland. What can you do?

  10. Even prisoners serving sentences of life without parole in maximum-security prisons can still commit murder, either of prison guards, other prisoners, or they can order murders committed by their cohorts on the outside. And they can escape. All of these factors make it better to keep terrorists captured abroad at Gitmo than in the USA.

    However, on top of that, there’s no guarantee that any of the Gitmo detainees brought to the USA will actually serve sentences of life without parole in supermax prisons. After all, they haven’t all been convicted in civil court and given that sentence yet. The chance that they will not be thus convicted and/or sentenced is yet another reason why keeping them at Gitmo is preferable.

    All this will really do is increase the likelihood that US soldiers will execute foreign terrorists upon capture, rather than letting them be brought to the USA to endanger the American people.

    Neither terrorists nor liberals (do I repeat myself?) are recruited by Gitmo; both have ample reason to hate America with or without Gitmo.

    1. Murder is however impossible in Cuba, because terrorists are like vampires and lose their strength in sunlight. Furthermore, if held in the US, the terrorists may shout very loudly, which would allow them to be heard by their followers outside of the supermax prison. In Cuba, the sound of multiple Latin brass bands drowns out terrorist shouts, no matter how loud. Also, some of the detainees may be being held without any actual evidence of their guilt, like those Uighers, or that Canadian kid. If given a trial, these detainees may be found innocent. We cannot let this come to pass.

      Oh, and American soldiers are always on the cusp of committing war crimes by killing enemy soldiers who try to surrender. We can encourage them to not commit war crimes by engaging in detainment practices deemed unacceptable by the supreme court.

      Oh, and 1/3 of the country or more is made up of terrorists. They will hate America no matter what. Oddly, it is the terrorist third that thinks that the average American shouldn’t be trusted with guns. Maybe the terroristic aversion to guns explains why, for a country with 100 million terrorists, we have so little terrorism.

  11. “””All this will really do is increase the likelihood that US soldiers will execute foreign terrorists upon capture, rather than letting them be brought to the USA to endanger the American people.””

    No capture. Just kill. And I see that as a good thing.

  12. Idea:

    We move these cretins to the new digs, BUT… we tell the world they’re still in Gitmo – however, they were recently rescued by Raul Castro in a daring midnight raid, and HE has ’em in his prison cells. Maybe al Qaeda gets stoopid-brave enough to buy it, attacks Cuba… and we sit back and munch popcorn.

    1. damn it! You blew our cover!

  13. Read the article by Andrew Sullivan in the link and see how well you sleep at night knowing that a 43 year old associate of KSM will be on the street in 8 years or less, thanks to Eric Holder and the Dept of [In]Justice.


  14. “Moving the prisoners to American soil would affirm the startling proposition that we consider ourselves bound by the rule of law.”

    Pretty dumb.

    Giving them ALL trials would indicate we believe in the rule of law. Moving them to America indicates we like shuffling our feet, or at least the government does.

    Also, I’m glad you don’t think the local population will be in danger of having Al Qaeda there, but maybe we should be more concerned about the Al Qaeda members (93% of whom were not picked up by US forces, but by local people who were frequently paid for their capture.) In case you haven’t noticed, there have been numerous cases when prisoners have DIED in US custody. It’s happened in Guantanamo and Bagram and Abu Ghraib (“Abu what?”). So, if anything, it seems to be their health that’s in danger.

    1. PS “Al Qaeda” members should be in quotes before that parenthetical.

  15. Dunkin’ Donuts? There’s none where I live.

  16. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on

  17. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books.

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