Deal to close Gitmo nigh?
posted at 10:55 am on March 19, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
While the health-care debate rages on into the weekend, the national-security debate over Guantanamo Bay and military commissions has quietly moved towards a denouement — one that would end up with terrorists housed in Illinois. Sen. Lindsey Graham has reached some agreement with the Obama administration to end civilian trials for most terrorists captured abroad in exchange for buying the Thomson, IL prison and converting it to a maximum-security facility complete with military courthouse:
The White House is nearing a deal with a bipartisan group of senators to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and pave the way for more detainees to be tried before military commissions, a move that would reverse a signature Obama administration security policy.
The deal would put the alleged mastermind of the attacks of September 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his fellow plotters and other top terror suspects before revamped military commissions, rather than in civilian trials as the Obama administration had sought. These courts would offer defendants more rights than they had under the Bush administration, but fewer than they would be afforded in civilian court. …
The framework of the deal is being led in Congress by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Mr. Graham wants civilian courts to be reserved for low-level Al Qaeda operatives and terrorist financiers, a far smaller group than previously considered.
Forty-eight Guantanamo prisoners—men who cannot be convicted in court but deemed too dangerous for release—would face indefinite detention without trial. Democrats are willing to expand the number of detainees brought before military commissions, but want more discretion than in Mr. Graham’s proposal. …
In exchange for the concessions on civilian trials from Democrats, Mr. Graham will help secure funding to purchase a little-used prison in Thomson, Ill., and refurbish it as a federal maximum-security facility with a military courthouse. Senate Democratic aides say Mr. Graham believes two other Republicans are willing to join the compromise, but they would not say who.
Andy McCarthy is livid at the trade, which he insists isn’t necessary:
There’s not much more I can say beyond what I’ve already said (see here and here) about what a disaster this will be for our national security. Senator Graham will try to spin it as a great result — just as the Gang of 14 compromise was spun, despite its acquiescence in the Left’s torpedoing of several qualified Bush nominees, leaving unfilled slots that Obama is now filling with his kind of judges. It will be a terrible result.
The good parts of the deal will be either things we’d have gotten anyway (like no civilian trial for KSM) or unenforceable (like promises that the Obama administration will be more open to using options other than the criminal justice system for top terrorists). The bad parts will be horrific, and no matter what Senator Graham says, he can’t do a thing about them: The place or places where the terrorists are held will become targets that we will have to spend tons of money to protect; the tons of money we have already spent to make Gitmo a first-rate, ideally secured facility, will be lost; and, most significantly, the physical presence in the U.S. of the detainees will mean they are unquestionably in the jurisdiction of the federal courts, where judges will be able to say the Constitution requires all sorts of remedies, including release.
And remember, all of this will be based on the fiction that Gitmo foments anti-U.S. terrorism — and to the extent the U.S. reputation in the world has been tarnished, much more of that has been done by the politicians who’ve attacked Gitmo than by the facility itself, which is a model.
The idea of trying terrorists captured abroad in federal court died a painful death this year, helped in no small part by the bungling of the EunuchBomber case both before and after his capture. A majority of Americans opposed the effort, and when local and state officials began to reflect that with their strong objections, the White House had little choice but to retreat from their earlier decision. The time for that part of the trade was probably last year; Sen. Graham is about half a year too late, but just doesn’t know it. The likelihood of trying others such as KSM in a federal court is very low indeed.
Why should we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to build the facility in Thomson? It will have the very same kind of military commission courtroom as we built in Gitmo, for the very same purpose. It will use the very same military commission system that Congress authorized three times, one that Graham insists will work and even the Obama administration agreed to use in several cases — and that can be conducted in Gitmo, too. The processes and resources available to detainees in Thomson have been available to detainees in Gitmo for several years now.
So why spend the money and the time just to transport terrorists into the US? Vanity, and not just presidential vanity, either. Barack Obama may have spent three years claiming that Gitmo encourages terrorism, but he wasn’t the only one — Graham spouted the same nonsense, too, as did Democrats and a few other Republicans. What exactly is the evidence for this, other than the proclamations of a few politicians? Terrorism existed before Gitmo opened; we have a massive hole in the ground in Manhattan to testify to that. It will exist regardless of where we hold detainees. The terrorists are not at war with us because of Gitmo, and the suggestion that they are is absurd.