There are numerous philosophical, legal, and moral reasons to keep foreign enemy combatants off American soil, away from civilian courts, and out of our prison system. Maintaining wartime precedent is a big issue, for instance. Keeping checks on judicial overreach is another problem. Where is it written that judges are supposed to dictate or execute war strategy? Then there’s the dilemma of extending rights reserved for citizens to non-citizens, a legal action that is constitutionality questionable at best. You get the point.
But there are some practical issues that often go overlooked or allow themselves to become ripe for caricature. For example, the realization that some detainees will slip through the cracks and be set free is a real and pressing worry. Yet many of those who favor bringing al-Qaeda detainees to the United States mock this concern as being “easily frightened” and “wimpy.” As per usual, false bravado is used to downplay the threat from al-Qaeda — “Who’s afraid of the terrorists? Not me!” — and professional seriousness about terrorism is mischaracterized as irrational fear of terrorism.
This is not the case. It should be acknowledged that not every Guantanamo Bay detainee would be brought to the United States. Some would be let go and, of those let go, some would end up killing American soldiers on the very same battlefield they were apprehended on years prior. This is all but certain. A recent Pentagon report confirms this suspicion, concluding that approximately one in seven of the 534 prisoners released from Gitmo have returned to terrorism and anti-U.S. militancy. This report has not yet been fully released to the public. One can only guess why.
Another problem is sheer sequence. This is not World War II, where captured soldiers can be imprisoned until the end of hostilities and then released and used to help stabilize postwar Germany. No, with al-Qaeda, the “soldiers” themselves represent the origination of hostilities. Nobody can tell al-Qaeda that the war is over and have them act accordingly.
Needless to say, terrorists commit terrorism. This is a classic chicken-and-the-egg scenario. For what is the point of countering terrorism — which is merely a tactic, after all — if the imprisoned terrorists will be released the moment terrorism subsides? The only reason terrorism would have subsided is that a plurality of terrorists would have been captured and imprisoned. Releasing them would immediately recommence the violence, thus reconfirming the need for their incarceration. Think about it: if a war were declared over because all enemies were imprisoned, wouldn’t freeing those enemies reconstitute the continuation of the war?
By bringing the al-Qaedists to civilian courts in the United States, most of these punks will not get the death penalty and some likely may not even receive lifetime imprisonment. This is nothing short of scandalous. Mere membership in al-Qaeda ought to necessitate an entire life behind bars. Anything less prolongs their war on us for perpetuity.
For example, take Mohammed Rashed, a terrorist aligned with the infamous Abu Ibrahim. Rashed is currently behind bars in a maximum-security prison in Colorado, but is scheduled for release in less than four years. Upon his release, will Rashed rendezvous yet again with Ibrahim, who is now seeking safe haven in Lebanon? There is no way of telling and following Rashed’s post-prison journey will require heavy resources for our domestic and foreign intelligence services. Now imagine having to do that for hundreds of newly freed al-Qaeda prisoners.
Would al-Qaeda inmates be able to escape? Probably not. But what if they did? Inmates escape from prison all the time. Sure, the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be under tighter security, but would al-Qaeda conduct terrorist attacks to free their brethren? For years, al-Qaeda carried out attacks under the guise of freeing Omar Abdel Rahman, “the blind sheikh,” from his American prison cell. Would they replicate such a strategy for Ramzi Binalshibh? Would foreign adversarial governments lobby on behalf of the detainees? Would the Saudis apply geopolitical or economic pressure — read: oil withholdings, propaganda efforts in Saudi-controlled U.S. academia, etc. — for the release of certain detainees close to a specific Saudi prince? Would the Iranians attempt sabotage operations to free one of their operatives, as they have tried so many times in U.S.-run Iraqi prisons?
So utterly and pathetically reactionary against all that is “Bush” and so eager to placate his left-wing base after multiple disappointments, these are serious problems President Obama clearly has not thought through.
How would regular inmates mix with al-Qaeda inmates? Any al-Qaeda detainee who came into contact with a run-of-the-mill convicted murderer or gang member is ironically in greater danger than at any point during his stay at Gitmo. An American prison is a dangerous place; anyone with the safety of al-Qaeda inmates high on their agenda should oppose integrating “special” prisoners — like terrorists — with regular ones. Imprisoned cop-killers and psychopaths will do to al-Qaeda inmates what they do to imprisoned child molesters: they will kill them very slowly and very painfully. On a personal note, I wouldn’t lose much sleep. On a practical and moral note, this would be a disaster, not to mention terrible PR for the United States abroad.
Putting al-Qaeda trash in regular prisons would not only endanger them, but would also needlessly endanger the lives of prison guards and corrections officers — with wives, sons, and daughters at home — who would have to devote precious time and effort to protecting the terrorist convicts from abuse and assault.
The opposite is possible, too: the likelihood that al-Qaeda inmates could actually win over converts from the regular prison population. Recent studies show that an unusually high number of inmates convert to Islam during their incarceration, either due to Wahhabi-backed “missions” or the conveniences of religious exercise (rugs, sticks for incense, etc.). For example, Jose Padilla, who plotted to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States, was converted and radicalized while in prison. As Steven Emerson puts it:
That President Obama now wants to transfer hundreds of hardened jihadists into American prisons is a guarantee that they will serve as emissaries and proselytizers of jihad to the thousands of prisoners they are exposed to. In virtually no time, it is all but certain — based on past patterns of radical Islamic growth in jails that we have investigated — that we will witness the number of radical Islamic inmates multiply by thousands, maybe more.
Unlike Europe, the United States has been very lucky in that we have successfully managed to prevent the rise of an uncontainable homegrown jihadist threat. Should al-Qaeda be allowed to mingle with the most violent, vulnerable, and impressionable of our prisoners, we will most definitely have to address this problem somewhere down the road. And it wouldn’t be pretty.
Closing Guantanamo Bay and trying al-Qaeda terrorists as if they were mere criminals is symbolic gobbledygook and nothing more. It is certainly not practical, which is why most Americans now oppose closing the facility. One can only hope the administration recognizes this and offers us one final flip-flop, exuding what would constitute real leadership: keeping the prison open and defending its crystal-clear integrity and legality to any and all who would question otherwise.
Yeah. Good luck with that.