The Corner

Re: Keeping Terrorists Out

I agree with Jonah that this is not the strongest argument, though it’s still viable and still worth making. 

We already have lots of terrorists in U.S. prison, and they are isolated from general population — such that the most notorious incidents of proselytism have involved imprisoned terrorists being allowed to communicate with jihadists overseas (the WTC bombers with Spain, the blind sheikh with his organization in Egypt).  To be sure, Sayyid Nosair was able to plot the 1993 WTC bombing from Attica State Prison in NY, but that was 17 years ago and it wouldn’t happen today (indeed, he’s been in federal prison for 14 years in much different confinement conditions — especially after we convicted him in 1995 — and I don’t know of any suggestion that he’s been able to do much).  Obviously, taking in hundreds of terrorists at once would be difficult, but (unfortunately) I think the Obama administration is going to transfer at least half (probably more) of the remaining 240 to other countries, so the number we’d need to deal with would be manageable and could be sprinkled among the maximum security facilities and military brigs throughout the country. 

It would be far better, of course, to keep these characters at Gitmo. I think the claim that you need to close what everyone now concedes is a first rate facility because it is a symbol of wickedness and a blight on our “reputation in the world” is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.  First, our reputation with whom?  Europe with its savage legacy?  China?  Russia?  And the Muslim world?  I always wonder how that conversation goes: Ahmed and Nidal are on their way home from the Friday stonings when Ahmed turns and says, “You know, these Americans really offend me.  They’re so insensitive to human rights …” The running down of Gitmo involves its reputation with the Left — not with “the international community” — because it’s a symbol of America defending herself by military force.  Second, if Obama is this transcendent figure we’ve all heard about, why can’t he give Gitmo — which he now admits is a fine prison — the BO seal of approval and have all the other citizens of the world step back and say, “See, he’s fixed Gitmo, too.  It’s fine now.”  I mean, he’s kept the place open this long, he’s going to keep it open til at least January, and I don’t see that that fact has hurt him — or us (if that matters) — in the slightest.  And finally, since Obama has blessed targeted assassination, rendition, surveillance, indefinite detention, and now even military commissions (while his Justice Department embraces in federal court the legal theory of torture set forth in the Bybee/Yoo memos), what exactly is the blight that Gitmo somehow symbolizes?

Anyway, the worst part of bringing terrorists into U.S. prisons is it increases the chance that at least some of them will ultimately be released and settled here.  Right now, the main thing keeping the Uighurs out of the U.S. is that they’re not physically here – so Obama has to deal with such inconveniences as the fact that federal immigration law makes them excludable.  But if they were already here in some American jail, that hurdle would seem much easier to surmount (even though, in a technical legal sense, it shouldn’t be).

All that said, though, let’s remember why we chose Gitmo in the first place.  The thought was that if they were outside sovereign U.S. territory, the alien combatants would be outside the jurisdiction of the courts, so federal judges couldn’t interfere with and micromanage this aspect of warfare.  It was a good idea, but then the Supreme Court changed the rules.  If we’d known the Supremes would reverse precedents and say federal judges have just as much power at Gitmo as they have in Hoboken, I doubt we’d have put the jihadists there in the first place.  Then most of them would already be in federal prisons and military brigs in the U.S.  Again, had that happened, we’d now just be arguing over releasing them here — which would be worse than our present posture, in which transferring them here is still proving to be a big headache for the Obama administration. But we’d already have been holding them here for several years, the prison system would have done a good job, and that aspect of the security issue wouldn’t have much resonance.

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