The manner in which grown men and women in the United States Congress are fretting over the possibility that some of the Guantanamo detainees may wind up being incarcerated in federal civilian and military prisons on the mainland, illustrates yet again how tight a grip FEAR has on public policy in post-911 America.
Earlier this week, the Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s request for $80 billion to begin the process of closing down the detention facility at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. Six Senate Democrats voted against the president, even though those same Democrats earlier had called on Obama to close the facility. The only reason for this bizarre behavior by members of the president’s own party (and many Republicans) was the fear that some of the 100 or so detainess the Secretary of Defense said would have to still be incarcerated in facilities elsewhere would in fact . . . be incarcerated elsewhere. This lack of faith in the ability of the Bureaus of Prisons (which manages some of the most secure prison facilities in the world) and of our armed services (which maintain extremely secure military prisons as well), to safely house a small number of foreign detainees, is startling — and based on nothing other than irrational fear.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered the silliest rationale of all in defending the Senate’s about face. Reid explained that, “you can’t put them in prison unless you release them” and “we will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.” Say what? Simply transferring a prisoner from one facility (such as Guantanamo) to another (such as the “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado), is hardly “releasing” them. Every day, federal prisoners routinely are transferred from one facility to another, and no one (except Sen. Reid) considers such actions to consititute “releasing” those people.
The fact is, while the detention facility at Guantanamo offers the benefit of being located on an island off the U.S. mainland and is isolated on that island, the facility itself is no more secure than any number of other federal prisons; and is in fact not nearly as secure as many Bureau of Prison facilities, including the Supermax prison in Colorado, which already houses several convicted terrorists.
The president has made a policy decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. Members of Congress ought to have the backbone to vote for or against the president’s plan based on its merits, not hide behind irrational fear that somehow a super-human terrorist will be able to scale the walls of the Supermax prison and wreak havoc on a community in their district.