Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prairie Prison

President Obama announced that some Guantanamo Bay detainees in the war against al-Qaeda will be housed in an empty prison that the government plans to purchase. The prison is in Thomson, Illinois, a village on the Mississippi River due west of Chicago. Republicans who represent states in Congress nowhere near Illinois - plus a few G.O.P. members of Illinois's House delegation, in fairness - complained about the move, saying it brings terrorists to the homeland and endangers Americans.
What - terror suspects locked up inside a prison a threat to Americans? They won't even be a threat to the people of Thomson, who by and large welcome the move because of the jobs it will generate - three thousand jobs, a big deal for a little town like Thomson. So do Illinois's governor, Pat Quinn, and Illinois's senior senator, Richard Durbin, for the same reasons. If the people of Thomson are on board, and if the governor of Illinois and the state's senior senator (and possibly its junior senator, Roland Burris), and President Obama is putting his money where his mouth is buy willing to have the combatants incarcerated in his home state, what's the problem?
Oh, the law - that's right. There's a law on the books making it illegal to house Guantanamo prisoners on U.S. soil unless they are to be prosecuted. The Obama administration is likely to seek a change in the laws, and whether or not they seek further prosecutions is unclear. One thing that is clear is that the Defense Department will take over the portion of the prison the al-Qaeda inmates will be kept in once the transfer of prisoners is made.
The inmates are likely to be treated more fairly in Illinois than in the makeshift center at Guantanamo, and Obama is sincere in closing the odious Gitmo facility, but human rights activists shouldn't feel good about it yet; Guantanamo won't be close by next month as planned or hoped for, and there are still the questions of how long to keep these inmates and whether to prosecute them. But Obama is making a sincere effort to close Gitmo, which everyone agrees should be closed.
Even George Walker Bush.

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