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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Supermax prisons' no-escape record doesn't answer concerns about moving Gitmo terrorists onto U.S. soil

I'm already very tired of hearing the stupidest new talking point of the mainstream media: "Why worry about bringing terrorists from Gitmo to the mainland U.S., when we've never had a single escape from a federal 'Supermax' prison?" Duh. This is the sort of 9/10/01 thinking, the sort of "treat global terrorism like a domestic law enforcement problem," that is going to get people killed.

The risk isn't just, or even primarily, that the terrorists will escape, or that they'll misbehave while in custody, although those are indeed considerable risks that ought not be dismissed out of hand. Nor is the risk just, or even primarily, that being on U.S. soil will strengthen the prisoners' potential legal claims and defenses — although that's a considerable risk, too.

Rather, the most serious risk is that the same type of terrorist organization that mounted a simultaneous four-plane multi-state flying bomb assault on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11/01 would welcome the opportunity to assault any holding facility on American soil, or whatever community was closest thereto, in an attempt to force the captured terrorists' release. Simply put, friends and neighbors: Any holding facility for radical Islamic terrorists on American soil would be a target and a potential "rescue mission" for which al Qaeda or its like would delightedly create dozens or hundreds of new "martyrs" from among their own ranks.

Right now — as has been continuously true since the first prisoners were shipped there after we began operating against the Taliban in Afghanistan — these terrorists' would-be "rescuers" can't assault Gitmo without first getting to Cuba and then defeating the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps at sea, on land, and in the air. That's not the kind of fight they want; those aren't the kind of logistical hurdles they can ever overcome. Keeping all the captured terrorists at Gitmo, in other words, has played directly to our strongest suit as a nation — our superb, unparalleled, and highly professional military strength as continuously projected in a place of our choosing without risk of collateral casualties among American civilians.

But once the scene shifts to American soil, we lose virtually all of that combination of power and flexibility, and surrender back to the terrorists all the advantages upon which they regularly depend. Getting into the U.S., or using "sleepers" already here? In a fight against some local sheriffs or prison guards armed mostly with revolvers and tasers (perhaps supplemented with shotguns or even a few assault rifles, but no heavy weaponry at all)? With the fighting to take place in or even near any American population center? Can the Obama Administration possibly be so stupid as to forfeit all of our own advantages, and give all of the terrorists' advantages back to them? Can they do that for no better reason than to placate the idiots on the Hard Left who still have failed to heed the warnings on those Viagra/Levitra commercials? (Their hard-ons for George W. Bush have lasted now for substantially more than four hours — indeed, for more than eight years! — but they're still not seeking immediate medical, which is to say, psychiatric, attention.) I'm very afraid that the Obama Administration's answer to these questions may remain: "Yes we can!" (Followed by, "Shut up! We won.")

If instead you distribute the current Gitmo prisoners among many American locations, you still forfeit all of the advantages of Gitmo, while simply multiplying the number of potential targets that we have to protect, and without significantly diminishing the potential propaganda rewards to their would-be terrorist rescuers from even a single assault. Their international publicity coup would be about the same — humiliating the "Great Satan" again on its own soil — whether they sprang two prisoners or two hundred. And for that matter, their PR purposes don't require them to actually succeed in the rescue attempt, just to get a lot of non-terrorists killed too.

As for why domestic history with merely criminal organizations isn't instructive: The Mafia, or the Colombian drug-lords, or whatever other allies there may be of those who've been successfully held in Supermax and other American civilian prisons, generally aren't willing to engage in mass suicides to free their incarcerated compadres. Nor are they inclined to try to kill thousands of American civilians in the process of effecting a rescue. "Terrorism" is a sideshow for them, a temporary and small-scale means to generate financial profit. And while they have money and access to at least paramilitary weapons, they don't have the kind of rogue state support (think Iran and potentially North Korea) that may be available to our enemies in the Global War on Terrorism — ummm, errr, Global War on Man-Caused Disaster-Creators.

Security for the terrorists now being held at Gitmo, in short, isn't just a question of "keeping them in." It's necessarily a question of keeping them where they can't get to others and others can't get to them — or anywhere remotely close to them.

Posted by Beldar at 06:40 PM in Global War on Terror, Law (2009), Politics (2009), SCOTUS & federal courts | Permalink


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(1) glenn made the following comment | May 20, 2009 8:43:29 PM | Permalink

If you shoot them in the head you don't have to worry about them annnnyyy more.

(2) AD made the following comment | May 21, 2009 2:29:43 AM | Permalink

Field interrogations followed by summary execution...the solution preferred by authorized combatants from the earliest times.
Guaranteed to have a zero-percent recidivism rate.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | May 21, 2009 3:00:11 AM | Permalink

Glenn (#1) and AD (#2): I appreciate the sentiment, and share some degree of nostalgia for the simplicity of days long past when summary decisions of the sort you describe were made and enforced in the field. And there's no doubt that some, perhaps most, of the Gitmo terrorists deserve the ultimate penalty.

But those days are long past, and there are also certainly some of the Gitmo detainees who are worse actors than others, and there may indeed be some who are deserving of only less severe penalties. In any event, I don't dispute -- in fact, I would insist -- that the detainees receive the process due them under the laws passed by the Congress and signed by President Bush regarding the commission trials that Obama suspended, but that he now appears to again be embracing.

While those trials play out, and even afterward for those not sentenced to death (after such appeals as the statutory scheme created for them prescribes — and not, mind you, the damned near unlimited sequential appeals that are common in civilian death penalty cases in states like California), we've got to deal with the problem of where to keep these people.

I'm not fussing at you, and I suspect there's a degree of snark and sarcasm in your comments; I'd guess that we probably agree upon more than we disagree upon.

But I hope you'll forgive me, in turn, if this time, on this issue, I stick to the dry and dangerous reality threatened by the Obama Administration. The real-world choice before the country (and, especially, before the Congress) is whether to keep these guys at Gitmo or bring them to America. I've heard this "they'd be okay in Supermax" meme from people on the Left and people on the Right, but it's a flawed observation that could lead to a bad decision. I've been to Texas prisons, including to death row; I don't doubt our civilian authorities' ability to contain the worst of the worst, if simple containment is the main issue. But it's not, and that's the point of my post.

(4) Rod Smith made the following comment | May 21, 2009 10:05:08 AM | Permalink

It seems to me that the real problem here is that the current administration treats the (former) "war on terror" as a domestic political game rather than a real threat to National Security.

Such an attitude (or is it simply ignorance?) will never concede that what is politically correct is not necessarily sufficient.

(5) TheSwabbie made the following comment | May 21, 2009 12:48:57 PM | Permalink

I am afraid for this Country. A "SMALL" number of people got scared and allowed unfounded worries to dictate who they voted for. What resulted was a slight edge over John McCain and we ended up with one of the least experienced people we could possibly have put in the White House. His lack of experience, knowledge is already starting to show. I pray that the Country doesn't have to pay too dearly for his missteps and bad judgment in the coming 4 years. Mr. Obama bowing to Liberals and throwing it out there “ill close Gitmo” for the sake of just “closing gitmo” and nothing else. There is actually no gain in this move, only losses in just about every direction you look. But Mr. Obama appears to think this is a very smart political strategy? Not cool.

(6) W Krebs made the following comment | May 21, 2009 2:13:27 PM | Permalink

I assume that there must be locations within the U.S. at least as remote and defensible as Gitmo. For example, an island in the Aleutians would satisfy these requirements, could be made defensible, and would have the additional advantage of a more forbidding environment than Gitmo.

However, any location meeting the baseline security requirements of Gitmo would draw just as much criticism as the current prison. Thus, President Obama faces a dilemma. Either reduce the security and raise the risks, as Beldar describes, or else maintain the security and take the heat from his base.

(7) Mike Myers made the following comment | May 21, 2009 2:46:00 PM | Permalink

The man has simply not thought this through. He says "I'll close Gitmo" on his second day in office. But he still hasn't figured out where he'll put the detainees. Of course once he's restored our good image in the eyes of the world--a mere trifle for a wonderful person like him--other countries will fall in line and eagerly accept a share of the burden. All it will take is a brief sprinkle of Obama Unicorn Dust.

He also continues to work the theme that he's a wonderful person, campaigning for President of the whole world. He implies that it's really a shame that a fine fellow like him hasn't been given a country to rule that he could be proud of. His wife has similar sentiments and grandiose self regard.

To which I say; Barack, how's that deal about getting other countries to take these Gitmo detainees off our hands working out for you? Any progress on that front? Didn't think so.

If you contrasted Obama's speeches with the facts on the ground--and set it all to some decent music, you'd have something approaching opera buffa. I recently watched an interview of an Italian opera singer discussing his role as the idiotic evil stepfather in the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola. [The character has a dream where he sees himself as an ass with two ears.] The singer said that the key to understanding and playing all such characters is to know that the characters are very serious about what they are doing. They don't realize that they are being buffoons. Obama believes his own press clippings; he doesn't seem to be able to tell a joke, or to mock himself.

Now I can go to the opera or to the theater, and if the performance is bad, I can simply slip out at the intermission. Unfortunately I'm stuck in my seat for at least four years of
"Obama, the opera buffa". All I can do is hope that Obama's programs don't turn it into a tragic opera for all of us.

(8) stan made the following comment | May 21, 2009 6:10:03 PM | Permalink

Today, Obama said that Americans don't want rigid ideological solutions enacted as policy. He was referring to Bush and Gitmo! Talk about a bizarre looking glass experience. Humpty Dumpty would have been so proud.

The man's lack of self-awareness is extraordinary.

I'm not sure there's ever been anyone more full of it than he. I'm still trying to figure out whether he knows it's all a crock or he's genuinely clueless.

(9) Jim Ward made the following comment | May 21, 2009 7:40:11 PM | Permalink

Get grip Texans. The prisoners are not supermen. I agree that they shouldn't be distributed throuout the country. They should all be housed at the maximum security prison in Beaumont, Texas where they can be watched by courageous patriots, not cowards.

(10) Marianne Matthews made the following comment | May 22, 2009 11:46:56 AM | Permalink

Jim Ward ... I'm a Texan, living in Houston, and I've "got a grip" on reality, perhaps more than you do. 'Maximum security' prisons aren't 'perfect security' prisons. Folks have broken out of them before. And as a resident of a border state, which is increasingly being invaded across our southern border by illegal aliens and Mexican drug cartel terrorists, I'm not comfortable in adding Muslim Terrorists to the mix. Beaumont is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Houston, and if Hurricane Ike can make the trip, so can escaped terrorists.

These people are, by their own declaration, dedicated to killing all infidels, and that includes us. That IS us. All of us who are not Muslims. Guantanamo is an excellent place to retain them -- an island, offshore of mainland America, with real maximum security, and a lot of creature comforts which the prisoners never had in their own countries. As Beldar notes tellingly, above, if we imprison these Muslims anywhere within the continental United States, we make ourselves and the towns which surround the 'maximum security' prison, perfect tempting targets for terrorist Muslims trying to earn their stripes and their 72 virgins.

So ... sorry if it offends you, but I disagree with you completely.

Marianne Matthews

(11) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | May 22, 2009 2:51:15 PM | Permalink

Jim Ward:

As Beldar notes, "I've been to Texas prisons, including to death row; I don't doubt our civilian authorities' ability to contain the worst of the worst, if simple containment is the main issue. But it's not, and that's the point of my post."

If you disagree with him, go back up and re-read his post and then deal directly with his arguments.

Just saying, "Get grip Texans. The prisoners are not supermen.", is not really an answer.


(12) A.W. made the following comment | May 22, 2009 3:24:04 PM | Permalink

That's a good concern, too, Beldar. i also don't like the idea of mixing them with prison populations because they might radicalize them. the recent NYC plot was launched by 4 former prisoners demonstrates the real problem of prison radicalism.

But what do you think of this one. Reopen the Rock? make that a prison again, just for these guys, bring it up to the tech, etc.

First, its an island, so hard to get to, hard to get out of. Second, its Pelosi's district, so that all those liberals get to bear the brunt of their own silly policies.

Of course, i am with ann althouse who says there won't be no closing of gitmo--its all for show. And if obama keeps denouncing bush and then adopting his policies almost exactly, well, i can live with that. a dead terrorist is a dead terrorist. the problem is i am not sure he is going to do that.

(13) Joe made the following comment | May 23, 2009 1:14:44 PM | Permalink

If the Gitmo detainees are moved to any prison in the US they will become willing participants in the conversion of other prisoners to their brand of Islam. In-prison conversions are frequent especially among black prisoners.

The detainees in the US would become living martyrs in the system and be in a much better location to transmit information to the outside, and even to be freed on our soil eventually by jury trial. I hope they never touch American soil even though the ability to physically restrain them is not in question. Imagine the fawning of the media over them in this country--it's bad enough now.

(14) TMac made the following comment | May 23, 2009 1:44:30 PM | Permalink

A.W. What is the point of spending millions to build a "new" prison when we already have an excellent prison in Cuba that we spent millions to build. The symbolism over substance of the current administration is wearing a bit thin.

(15) Jimbo made the following comment | May 24, 2009 11:01:13 AM | Permalink

Speaking about recruitment issues, I heard an interesting conversation between Hugh Hewitt and a California correctional officer last week, talking about problems caused by the rights afforded to SuperMax prisoners under "pro per" rules. I don't pretend to have a knowledgeable opinion about this, but my instinct is to say that the legal morass that we're setting ourselves up for is at least as frightening.

if interested - conversation starts at about 25 1/2 minutes...

(16) Bruce made the following comment | May 25, 2009 9:02:51 AM | Permalink

This makes a great plot for a movie script but lets come back to reality for a moment. We have, using due process, already locked up a number of terrorists in federal prisons. Did I miss the news report about the assault on one of them?

(17) Beldar made the following comment | May 25, 2009 5:36:17 PM | Permalink

Bruce (#16), let me pose you two counter-questions: First, are you unaware that al Qaeda leaders have already declared that maximum efforts must be exerted by all Muslims to free from American prisons the handful of terrorists whom we've convicted and are holding in American prisons? (If you're not, go read Andy McCarthy's first-hand accounts (e.g., here) of the threats he's aware of from having prosecuted the "Blind Sheik" and other prominent terrorists from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.) This rose to the level of specific, active conspiracies that were underway, that were partially implemented, and that would have created great havoc had we not successfully interrupted them. For example (italics and boldface omitted):

... So, for example, when the WTC was bombed in 1993, the other top project on the cell's agenda was breaking [Sayyid] Nosair[, one of the 1993 WTC bombers,] 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 [terrorist lawyer Lynne] 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."

How many slit torsos with prisoner release demands inside do you need to begin to take this threat seriously?

Second, would you agree that the attractiveness of the escape/assault target would increase (probably in a more than linear fashion) the more prisoners are located at a single location, with the single most attractive target (in terms of numbers potentially released/martyred and especially in terms of symbolic value) being the place with the most such prisoners?

So yes, one of us has not been following the news very closely. And with due respect, your argument depends on the factual premise that what we've done before (a small handful of prisoners spread among several different civilian provisions -- and even they have successfully directed terrorist activities from prison!) is comparable to what is being proposed (moving 200+ of the "worst of the worst" onto American soil and into American civilian prisons. That that's a false premise. One of us is indeed using Hollywood-type romantic logic, but it's not me.

Thanks, though, for stopping by to leave such a paradigmatic 9/10/01 comment! (And with an email address from a Latvian domain name, no less!)

(18) Legal Aid made the following comment | May 25, 2009 11:25:32 PM | Permalink

This will going to be a very risky move. The safety and security of the American people will be compromised. It is advisable to let things as they are right now.

(19) A.W. made the following comment | May 26, 2009 11:51:08 AM | Permalink

Let me be clear, I don't like closing gitmo at all. And these idiots don't deserve any hearings at all. We didn't give them to confederates or nazis, why start with the worst of the worst?

I was just saying that if we are going to close gitmo, how about the rock?

(20) Thomas made the following comment | May 27, 2009 11:13:43 PM | Permalink

The practicality of Gitmo was understandable for the first year. The Taliban were and are an affront to everything for which we stand. What they did on 9/11 was horrible. The society that was created in Afghanistan was beyond acceptable in the eyes of a civilized society.

Eight years later, however, the ongoing issue of holding humans beings (many of whom were apparently selected by circumstance and/or "wrong place-wrong time") as prisoners without declared charges; said evidence displayed for anyone to see - especially those imprisoned because of such evidence; impending trial on the horizon; and with accusations of torture for which we have - with great pride - pleaded guilty; is an affront to who we are as Americans and has profound moral implications for us as human beings. Gitmo has become an albatross of shame and hubris hanging around our necks and we lose any claim to moral superiority some 2,800 days after its doors were first opened.

I do not accept the relentless claims of fear as acceptable reasons to continue this railroad of injustice and immorality. The "safety and security of the American people" is becoming compromised more by what we are in danger of becoming than by what anyone is trying to do to us.

Opening Gitmo, however justified some 2,800 days ago, put us in a cats' cradle of moral ambiguity for which we ourselves have become bound and from which must become untied.

Close Gitmo now. Begin the trials now. If eight years is insufficient time to gather evidence against someone, then perhaps we must accept the reality that the evidence never existed in the first place and will never be found in the bushes of Afghanistan. We must accept the reality that fear is our only evidence, and that is not enough to continue this course.

Time and time again, America has proven its strength and greatness is by what it is willing to air in public courts as free men and women. The greatness of a society has never, ever, been hidden in the Star Chambers of injustice, intolerance and ignorance.

I understand the fears. But we can no longer be imprisoned by them. We are better than that.

(21) Bill made the following comment | May 28, 2009 3:32:06 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Thomas.

Are we going to allow our policy to be dictated by fear of what some radical group of yahoos in Egypt might do? Or are we going to base our system of justice on our Constitution and our laws?

If bringing terror suspects to federal maximum security prisons (from which no one has ever escaped) would make those prisons terrorist targets, why isn't Gitmo a terrorist target now? Where have the attacks on Gitmo been?

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