The Corner

Closing Gitmo Is Still a Terrible Idea

Such unlucky timing for Senator Dick Durbin: He insisted on hearing today to push forward President Obama’s reckless project to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Apparently, al-Qaeda did not get the memo: The jihadist network has conducted bombing raids at two Iraqi prisons – including Abu Ghraib – in a successful plot to break out hundreds of terrorists. An Iraqi parliamentarian concedes that no fewer than 500 jihadists have escaped, including many senior al-Qaeda operatives who were awaiting execution.

If you want to get a sense of the very coherent Middle East policy President Obama has arrived at with the help of Senator McCain, the freed al-Qaeda terrorists can remain in country as America’s enemies in the Iraqi civil war, or they can skip across the border and become “rebels” – America’s noble allies in the Syrian civil war.

But back to Gitmo. What has just happened in Iraq – and terrorist attacks to facilitate escapes have happened before in Iraq as well as in Yemen and Afghanistan — underscores one of the many fallacies in the anti-Gitmo arguments posited by the president and Attorney General Eric Holder. They claim that closing Gitmo and lodging the enemy combatant military prisoners in stateside civilian prisons would pose no security threat to the American people because our federal prisons – especially the “supermax” facilities – are so secure escape is impossible. But escape is not and has never been our principal concern; the security challenge is attempted escape. That is, just because we’re confident that violent people cannot successfully break themselves out does not mean they and their confederates will not forever plot and occasionally try to break them out — increasing considerably the threat of violence at and around the prisons.

Put aside for now the astronomical security costs to “harden” terrorist prison facilities and protect the perimeter around them. The plots to free jihadists have resulted in acts of savage violence both inside and outside the prisons where terrorists have been held. If Obama shutters Gitmo and moves the terrorists here, he will in effect be moving more of these plots here.

I’ve addressed these concerns several times over the years as Obama – with occasional Republican help – periodically restarts the “let’s close Gitmo” initiative. This post, from 2009, for example:

1. The Promotion of Terrorism Concern.  Imprisoned terrorists can inspire, plan and direct acts of terrorism from American prisons.  This is not a hypothetical concern; it is richly documented.  Sayyid Nosair helped plan and urge the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center from Attica State Prison. The 1993 WTC bombers, despite being in maximum security conditions, managed to communicate by letter with al Qaeda cells in Spain. Attorney Lynne Stewart, among others, was convicted for helping the Blind Sheikh (Omar Abdel Rahman) run his Egyptian terrorist organization, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya or “the Islamic Group,” from his high-security U.S. prison confinement. Osama bin Laden, moreover, credits the Blind Sheikh with issuing the fatwa that approved the 9/11 attacks from the same confinement. (To quote from the Lynne Stewart terrorism case indictment in New York: “For instance, in a message to his followers recorded while he was in prison, Abdel Rahman stated that it was the duty of all Muslims to set free any imprisoned fellow Muslims, and that “[t]he Sheikh is calling on you, morning and evening. Oh Muslims! Oh Muslims! And he finds no respondents. It is a duty upon all the Muslims around the world to come to free the Sheikh, and to rescue him from his jail.” (Emphasis added.) Referring to the United States, Abdel Rahman implored, “Muslims everywhere, dismember their nation, tear them apart, ruin their economy, provoke their corporations, destroy their embassies, attack their interests, sink their ships, and shoot down their planes, kill them on land, at sea, and in the air. Kill them wherever you find them” (emphasis added)).

Relatedly, quite apart from the Lynne Stewart case, terrorists have been known to use their lawyers, paralegals and investigators to communicate messages to each other and to the outside world.  You don’t need to believe that the lawyers et al. are willingly complicit in this (they could be being duped) in order to grasp that it is a major problem  Obviously, it is a far bigger problem if it is going on inside the U.S. than at Gitmo.

2. The Violence to Facilitate Escape or Release Concern.  While it would be virtually impossible for an inmate in a supermax facility to escape, that makes little difference to members of terrorist organizations who are at large and who constantly plot either direct escape attempts or other acts of terrorism aimed at extorting the release of their imprisoned cohorts.  So, for example, when the WTC was bombed in 1993, the other top project on the cell’s agenda was breaking Nosair out of Attica. When the WTC bombers were arrested, their co-conspirators plotted several atrocities (a conspiracy to murder Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on a trip to New York and a plot to bomb New York City landmarks) which, in part, were designed (as they discussed in recorded conversations) to induce American authorities to release the prisoners. 

Further, to quote again from the Stewart indictment, in 1996, “a statement, issued in the name of the Islamic Group, responded to the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on [Sheikh Omar] Abdel Rahman by threatening, “All American interests will be legitimate targets for our struggle until the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and his brothers. As the American Government has opted for open confrontation with the Islamic movementand the Islamic symbols of struggle, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya swears by God to its irreversible vow to take an eye for an eye.” In 1997, the Islamic Group reiterated: “The Islamic Group declares all American interests legitimate targets to its legitimate jihad until the release of all prisoners, on top of whom [is the Blind Sheikh].”  Later in 1997, over 50 tourists were slaughtered in Luxor, Egypt, by members of the Blind Sheikh’s organization (the Islamic Group).  As the afore-quoted indictment recounts: “the torso of one victim was slit by the terrorists and a leaflet calling for Abdel Rahman’s release was inserted.”

The Stewart indictment adds:

In or about March 2000, individuals claiming association with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group kidnapped approximately 29 hostages in the Philippines, demanded the release from prison of Abdel Rahman and two other convicted terrorists in exchange for the release of those hostages, and threatened to behead hostages if their demands were not met. Philippine authorities later found two decomposed, beheaded bodiesin an area where the hostages had been held, and four hostageswere ‘unaccounted for.’

On or about September 21, 2000, an Arabic television station, Al Jazeera, televised a meeting of Usama Bin Laden (leader of the al Qaeda terrorist organization), Ayman al Zawahiri (former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization and one of Bin Laden’s top lieutenants), and [Rifa’i Ahmad Taha Musa, the then-leader of the Islamic Group]. Sitting under a banner which read, “Convention to Support Honorable Omar Abdel Rahman,” the three terrorist leaders pledged to free Abdel Rahman from incarceration in the United States. During the meeting, Mohammed Abdel Rahman, … a son of Abdel Rahman, was heard encouraging others to “avenge your Sheikh” and “go to the spilling of blood.”

Obviously, some of this would happen whether prisoners were incarcerated in the U.S. or not, but concerns about escape plots will cause major security issues in states, cities and towns where the prisoners are held.

3. The Violence Against Prison Guards Concern.  The highest ranking member of al Qaeda ever brought to the U.S. is Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, one of the network’s founders who was indicted in the embassy bombings case.  He never stood trial for those atrocities, however.  That’s because he attempted to murder Bureau of Prisons guard Louis Pepe (by sticking a shiv through his eye and several inches into his brain).  Interestingly, Salim chose a meeting with his U.S. taxpayer-funded defense lawyers — ostensibly for “trial preparation” — as the perfect time to execute his escape plot.  He was planning to kidnap the lawyers to facilitate the escape of himself and other terrorists. 

Meanwhile, in 2006, Mark Levin’s Landmark Legal Foundation induced the Pentagon, under the Freedom of Information Act, to disclose reports documenting hundreds of assaults on prison guards at Guantanamo Bay – and it’s worth noting that that was three years ago and, while there are now less prisoners at Gitmo, it’s still extremely dangerous there. The information released in connection with combatant status review tribunals refers to plenty of inmate violence.  Indeed, in connection with the Uighurs — the trained terrorists Obama wants to release into the U.S. because they’re purportedly not a threat to us — the Los Angeles Times recently reported an incident in which a Uighur prisoner flung a television set to the ground because a woman with bare arms had been depicted on it. 

Again, these would be concerns wherever the prisoners were incarcerated, but it is far better to have these problems in a military facility outside the U.S.

The prison security problem, on its own, is a good enough reason to keep Gitmo up and running. The case for Gitmo becomes overwhelming when we add into the mix the facts that: (a) Gitmo does not cause terrorist recruitment – Islamic supremacist ideology does; (b) Islamists and leftists protesting Gitmo are not so much against the prison camp in Cuba as they are against detention without trial under the laws of war – a situation that would continue even if the prisoners were brought to the U.S.; and (c) once the prisoners were moved into the U.S., they would unquestionably be within the jurisdiction of federal judges, many of whom are innately hostile to indefinite detention without trial under military protocols rather than civilian due process – greatly increasing the chance that terrorists will be ordered released from custody.

This is the case I am confident Senator Ted Cruz will be making at today’s subcommittee hearing. Testifying on the importance of keeping Gitmo operating and keeping imprisoned enemy combatants out of our country will be our friend Frank Gaffney. I can’t think of anyone more up to the task.


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