About Those Terrorists Moving In Next Door

Dec 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm
So you may have heard that Missouri will soon be getting some new neighbors.

Yesterday, Illinois governor Pat Quinn received a letter from President Obama informing him that the terrorism suspects currently detained in Guantanamo Bay will be moved to a largely unused prison in Thomson Illinois, a few hours west of Chicago on the Iowa border.

Not exactly the Jeffersons that are moving in, eh?

Sleep easy, though: the government plans to purchase the Thomson prison from the state and upgrade the security to "beyond supermax." That means the prisoners will likely spend 23 hours a day in a 75.5 square foot cell and the facility will be surrounded multiple rings of electric fences and guard towers.

Still, despite the security measures, the president's decision is controversial, to say the least.

The best discussion on the issue is happening over on the New York Times' "Room For Debate" blog, which yesterday featured a post entitled "Moving Gitmo To America" with brief analysis from several law professors and political strategists.

One line in particular seemed pertinent with regard to the Show-Me State.

From Dan Schnur, communications director of John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign:
The short-term political fallout for President Obama himself is minimal. He has probably handed his old Senate seat over to Republicans, who will benefit from leading the criticism against the decision. Because the correctional facility is located only a short distance from the Iowa border, that state's embattled Democratic governor is probably finished as well.
Many Missouri lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have been extremely outspoken opponents of moving Gitmo into our backyard, with Sen. Kit Bond proclaiming, "We ought to put 'em in Alcatraz and let our good friends in San Francisco deal with these deadly combatants."

So the question is, what impact, if any, does moving the terrorists to the region have on Missouri's political landscape? Will Democrats who support the decision, such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, take the heat?

Either way, most everyone seems to agree the move is pointless unless it's followed by genuine change in the way the country conducts the so-called war on terror.

Writes Georgetown law professor David Cole in the NYT:
Closing Guantánamo will be dismissed as merely symbolic if it's not accompanied by substantive reform of our detention policies as well.

The Obama administration has still not made clear the terms under which it intends to hold prisoners there. It need not "try or release" everyone there, as some have argued. The law of war permits military detention of those fighting against us in an ongoing armed conflict, and our involvement in Afghanistan certainly qualifies.

But the definition of who we may detain must be narrowly tied to that ongoing conflict; we must provide fair hearings and afford detainees a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves; the burden of proof for detention should be stringent, and should rise as the detention gets more prolonged; and we must treat the detainees humanely.
Is 23 hours a day in a closet-size cell humane for someone who has never actually convicted of a crime? How about if they're an accused terrorist who will be living a few hundred miles from your home?