Fights Over Gitmo Detainees Renewed

By Matthew Harwood

The Obama administration's new plan to relocate Guantanamo detainees within the United States has caused a motley chorus of voices to rise up in opposition and support.

According to news reports, the Obama administration wants to transfer Guantanamo detainees to a hybrid maximum security prison/court complex where they can be tried and imprisoned. The two proposed locations for such a hybrid prison-court complex are either the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, or the soon-to-be shut down maximum-security facility in Standish, Michigan. Another scenario is trying detainees in "big-city courtrooms in the nation's capital, New York, and Virginia," according to the Associated Press.

Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases have been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal trials in those Eastern Seaboard locations, officials told The Associated Press on Monday, as the Justice Department, Pentagon and national security officials also weigh whether to hold virtually all Guantanamo-related civilian and military trials at a Midwestern prison in Michigan or Kansas.

The administration could decide that rather than bring the detainees to trial in a number of cities, it will instead bring prosecutors and judges with terrorism experience to one site in the Midwest for trial, which would pose other serious logistical hurdles. Or they could settle on a combination of the plans.

Both members of Congress and the human rights community have criticized the plan but for different reasons, reports Time:

Republican leaders — as well as quite a few Democrats — oppose bringing Gitmo detainees to the U.S. mainland on the grounds that they would pose a security threat. Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Jerry Moran, both Kansas Republicans, are leading the not-in-our-backyard brigade at Fort Leavenworth; both have denounced the task force's proposal as a bad idea .... Human-rights groups say they are not opposed to the facility itself, but what it would represent: a continuation of Bush-era policies that allow some detainees to be held indefinitely, without charge. Such policies "are the reason Guantánamo became an international symbol of injustice," says Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "If you [open] a similar facility in the U.S., that doesn't solve any of the problems that closing Guantánamo was meant to solve."

Kansas Republicans, according (subscription only), say they will shut down the Senate if the Obama administration pushes to house Guantanamo detainees at Fort Leavenworth.

Another detracting voice comes from the former commander of the USS Cole, which was attacked by al Qaeda in Yemen in 2000. "(President Obama) continues to cling to the misplaced false hope that released detainees will not return to the fight," Kirk Lippold, who now heads Military Families United, told Voice of America. "It is an unrealistic and unnecessary gamble with our national security.” His organization believes detainees should remain in Guantanamo.

The political winds blow a bit differently, however, when it comes to housing detainees at the maximum-security prison in Standish, Michigan. As The Washington Post reports today, prison employees and residents want to keep the prison open, even if that means housing 229 enemy combatants made up of al Qaeda, Taliban, and other foreign fighters. Their economic lives depend on it.

And Sarah Mendelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told Time and the AP that the best option for the Obama administration is simply trying the detainees in civilian courts for two reasons. First, the prosecutors in proposed locations for the trials have the experience necessary to tackle the terrorism cases. She said U.S. prosecutors have successfully tried 145 terrorists in the United States since 9-11. Second, echoing Jaffer, by simply transferring the prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to another similar prison complex inside the U.S., the administration will certainly risk legal challenges against domestic detainment.

President Obama has been defeated once before in his attempt to close Guantanamo Bay when $80 million, earmarked for closing and transferring the detainees, was overwhelmingly stripped from a supplemental spending bill in the Senate. The money will not be released until the administration meets strict reporting requirements regarding its plan to close Guantanamo, reports President Obama promised during his campaign to close the detention facility, which he has argued only fuels more anti-American-inspired terrorism.

For more criticisms of the Obama detainee plan, read a good spectrum of opinion from The Atlantic Wire.

♦ Photo of protests to close the detention centers at Guantanamo Bay by Mr T in DC/Flickr


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