"I would immediately close Guantanamo Bay, move all the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth (an army base in Kansas) and truly expedite the judicial proceedings in their cases."
If you guessed that Barack Obama made that statement, you'd be wrong.
Sen. John McCain said this in March 2007 during the start of his bid for the presidency.
McCain eventually won the Republican nomination and faced Barack Obama in November 2008. When we went to the polls back then, we voters knew that both McCain and Obama had clearly stated that they intended to close Guantanamo, and likely move the prisoners that are housed there to the mainland.
I can't recall any of us being too upset with this stance taken by both McCain and Obama. Don't remember seeing any news clips of screaming protestors at campaign rallies, demanding that Guantanamo remain open.
So, I have to admit to being a bit puzzled by the reaction coming from some camps after it was revealed this week that President Obama hopes to transfer at least 100 prisoners from Guantanamo to a currently empty prison in Illinois. The nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in the western Illinois farming town of Thomson is the latest potential candidate being evaluated to hold the detainees.
Suddenly, some members of Congress are horrified by the notion, including our own Sen. John Thune.
"Moving dangerous terrorists from a secure location in Cuba into the heartland of the United States is an irresponsible move that could endanger American lives. Instead of holding the terrorists outside the United States, President Obama has decided to move the Guantanamo detainees to a location only 450 miles from Sioux Falls," Thune said in a press statement his office released Dec. 15.
"It is a waste of taxpayer resources to move terrorists from the secure facility at Guantanamo, and it increases the risk that a federal judge may order an al Qaeda terrorist to be freed into American communities and neighborhoods," the senator said. "This flawed decision appears to be designed to appease the left wing of the Democrat party rather than to achieve an important national security objective."
This "flawed decision" is also part of the package this nation voted for, unless we all were secretly hoping that either McCain or Obama would go back on his campaign promises after being elected chief executive.
Sen. Thune needs to, well, chill a bit. And, he needs to stop spouting utter nonsense.
Moving Guantanomo detainees "only 450 miles from Sioux Falls" doesn't mean they may one day "be freed into American communities and neighborhoods."
Instead of swallowing political rhetoric, here are some facts for all of us to consider as we watch this issue likely get blown way out of proportion:
• Convicted terrorists already are held in U.S. prisons. Federal Bureau of Prisons director Harley Lappin said more than 340 international and domestic terrorists currently are incarcerated. Lappin said the bureau already works with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to assess threats.
• Northwestern University law professor Joseph Margulies, who has represented detainees, agreed that moving them to a U.S. prison would not affect any risk of a terrorist attack. Chicago has been on guard against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In Michigan, Standish residents scoffed at the notion of their town, population 1,500, as a terrorist target. Residents of Thomson, a village of about 450 people, did too. If Chicago is a terrorist target, they say, it's because it's a big city and not because detainees would be locked up in Illinois.
• Detainees would be overseen by the military and would not mingle with other federal inmates, said Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Felicia Ponce. If Thomson is chosen, the bureau would buy the prison and lease a "small" portion of it to the Department of Defense to house the detainees. The remainder would be operated as a high-security prison with between 1,500 and 1,600 inmates, Lappin said.
• Lappin also said Monday there would be a "limited" number of detainees and they would be in Department of Defense custody. The Michigan prison, which closed Oct. 31 because of budget cuts, has a capacity of about 600.
• And no, moving prisoners to U.S. soil doesn't mean we will suddenly be overrun by friends and family members of terrorists who decide to stop by to visit them on their way to blow up Mt. Rushmore (I picked the Shrine to Democracy since Sen. Thune has already painted a big red terrorist bull's eye on Sioux Falls). The Department of Defense does not allow detainees to have visitors. Phil Carter, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy, said detainees' only visitors at Guantanamo Bay are attorneys, the Red Cross and diplomatic and law enforcement personnel.
We can foresee this idea eventually turning into a fiasco, despite the fact that it is something that we've known would eventually happen. We're sure the same ilk that has reveled in the Tea Parties and the town halls and screamed about death panels and socialism will be crying that we're all about to die if detainees are moved from Cuba to our mainland.
That's fine. I mean, they have the right to do that. It would be nice, however, if they would explain why Guantanamo prisoners would instantly plunge us into danger, while the 340 convicted terrorists imprisoned in the U.S. are, well, not a problem.