Republican politicians and human-rights activists rarely agree on how to treat terrorist suspects, but they are unwitting allies in opposition to the Obama Administration’s latest proposal: the creation of a special facility in the continental U.S. where Gitmo inmates could be detained, tried and imprisoned.
President Obama’s interagency task force on detention policy is considering such a plan, and the most likely locations are the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kans., and a soon-to-close maximum-security prison in Standish, Mich. The proposal calls for a facility that will include a detention center for terror suspects, courtrooms for criminal trials and military commissions, and a prison for those they sentence. The facility to be run jointly by the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense would also house suspects being indefinitely detained, as well as those who have been found innocent but can’t be repatriated because no other country will take them.
The plan, which was first reported by the Associated Press, has been met with predictable outrage from the predictable quarters. 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. “My belief is that at this point those prisoners belong in Guantánamo Bay,” Moran told Fox News. “Maybe there’s something that needs to be done in regard to the trial or the ability to release [detainees] … but not here in the U.S.” Congress has barred funding for bringing detainees to the U.S. until the Administration comes up with a satisfactory plan to shutter Gitmo.
The White House has not expressed a preference between Fort Leavenworth and Standish. “I don’t know to the degree to which [the task force has] gotten into specific siting, and certainly no final decisions of any sort have been made,” spokesman Robert Gibbs told journalists on Aug. 3.
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.”
The plan to bundle together civilian and military courts is intended to address some of the security concerns by removing any need to move the detainees once they first arrive at the facility. But Sarah Mendelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the plan isn’t just “very odd, and unprecedented,” it is also unnecessary: U.S. courts have successfully tried and sentenced 145 terrorists since the attacks of 9/11.
“The system works, there’s no need for a hybrid,” says Mendelson, author of “Closing Guantánamo,” a report by the CSIS working group on Gitmo and U.S. detention policies. By trying to create a new facility, the Obama Administration would risk legal challenges and “it would look to others that instead of closing Gitmo, we’re just moving it.”
Perhaps anticipating opposition to the proposal for a hybrid facility, the Administration seems to be lining up a Plan B: it has referred the cases of dozens of detainees to prosecutors in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Va., for possible criminal trials, according to the Associated Press. All three districts have previously prosecuted terrorism cases.
See pictures of the aftershocks from the Abu Ghraib scandal.