Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another Ineffective Option for Gitmo

The Obama administration has come up with a new idea for what to do with the detainees left at Gitmo. Well, it's not really a new idea because it is actually just another option that brings the detainees into the U.S. yet solves none of the real problems the detainee situation poses. The new plan would shut the prison at Guantanamo Bay down and bring the detainees to prisons here in the U.S. The prisons being considered in this case are a maximum security prison in Michigan that is scheduled to close down and the maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

This new plan suffers from all the same ailments as options that have already been considered. First of all, there are big public relations/political problems with transferring the prisoners at Gitmo into the United States. The big problem here is the "not in my backyard" argument which says that almost no one, citizens or politicians, want the prisoners anywhere near them. A lot of people are worried about having prisoners that have been branded as terrorists near them, and the politicians are worried the voters of their state or district will blame them if the prisoners end up there. As far as I'm concerned that is a non-issue. When is the last time you heard of prisoners escaping from a maximum security prison? It's extremely rare, and even if it is possible the security at any prison housing the detainees will be extremely high.

The real issues that remain unanswered are legal/constitutional ones. We can move the detainees anywhere we want to, but the fact remains that we don't know what to do with the ones we can't put on trial or transfer to another country. The article reporting on this new plan says that we can take 60 to 80 of the prisoners left at Gitmo to trial. That means that 170 are left that we can't try or transfer. The new plan actually includes a plan for cells in which dangerous terrorists that can't be tried can be held, as well as a plan for "immigration cells" which will hold detainees that the courts have ordered to be freed yet can't be because the U.S. won't release them here and no other countries want them. Those two parts of the plan essentially institutionalize existing constitutionally-questionable problems as if doing so suddenly makes them constitutional.

In the end the fact remains that holding prisoners without trial is unconstitutional. Holding prisoners that have successfully challenged their detention through the habeas corpus process, and whose release has been ordered by a court, is unconstitutional. The fact remains that we are in a tough spot, but we have to do better.

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