The National Review: Welcome To Lake Gitmo National security is not a shovel-ready jobs program; the Obama administration's plan to move terrorist detainees from the security of Guantanamo Bay to a little-used state prison in Illinois needs to be reconsidered. Transferring trained jihadists into the United States just isn't a good idea.
NPR logo The National Review: Welcome To Lake Gitmo

The National Review: Welcome To Lake Gitmo

The aerial view of the Thomson Correctional Center Monday, Nov. 16, 2009 in Thomson , Ill. To much outcry, the government will acquire the facility to house Guantanamo Bay detainees. Rex Arbogast/AP hide caption

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Rex Arbogast/AP

The aerial view of the Thomson Correctional Center Monday, Nov. 16, 2009 in Thomson , Ill. To much outcry, the government will acquire the facility to house Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Rex Arbogast/AP

The Obama administration's plan to move terrorist detainees from the security of Guantanamo Bay to a little-used state prison in Illinois is being hailed by supportive Democrats as a boon for local economic development. Even if the development were truly a boon — and it's more a boondoggle — that would not come close to justifying it. National security is not a shovel-ready jobs program. It is the first duty of government, and it would be senselessly imperiled by transferring trained jihadists into the United States.

Like much unpopular or embarrassing news, the transfer plan leaked late on a Friday. It appeared in the form of presidential memorandum drafted by Eric Holder's Justice Department. Once approved by the president, the memo would direct Holder to "acquire" (as in purchase) the Thomson Correctional Center, about 150 miles west of Chicago. Defense Secretary Robert Gates would then, "as expeditiously as possible," relocate the remaining 200-plus Gitmo detainees to the TCC.

The prison is a $145 million white elephant. When Illinois was comparatively flush with capital, it built the 1,600-bed penitentiary to stimulate the depressed Mississippi Valley town. But the state is now a basket case. Budgetary woes have squeezed law-enforcement funding, and local politicians — including former state senator Barack Obama — have insisted that alternatives to incarceration be found, even for violent offenders; as a consequence less than 10 percent of the TCC's space is currently being used. Naturally, Obama's home-state Democrats are thrilled by the prospect of having Uncle Sam take the TCC off the state's hands. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement rapt at the prospect of "generating up to 3,800 jobs" and "injecting more than $1 billion into the regional economy."

This exorbitant "injection" of funds would be necessary because TCC is not ready to accommodate international jihadists, who are prone to riot, savagely attack their custodians, attempt escape, and plot terror attacks while in U.S. prisons. The jail would have to be hardened before it could become the new Gitmo. So even if financial considerations were the first-order priority here — and they should not be — the administration's plan would be inexcusably wasteful. Gitmo has already been hardened, at a cost of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. It is now a state-of-the-art, Geneva Conventions-compliant detention center. It makes no sense to sink those expenditures down a black hole, spending another fortune on a project that won't generate sustainable growth. Illinois found that out when it built TCC in the first place.

But the money isn't the worst of it. Moving the detainees into the United States would greatly increase the likelihood that federal judges will order some of them released here.

Though the nation's attention has been focused on the administration's absurd decision to grant the 9/11 plotters a trial in the civilian justice system, the fact is that many, if not most, of the remaining Gitmo detainees will not face a trial of any kind. They are being held under the laws of war, which permit the detention of enemy operatives until the conclusion of hostilities. The threat they pose is terrible, but it is known to us mostly through foreign intelligence that may not be used in trial proceedings.

This was not a problem in America's prior wars. Handling enemy prisoners was properly considered a military matter. In this war, activist judges urged on by left-wing lawyers have taken on an oversight role: the power, codified by Congress in the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, to review the legitimacy of military detention. Many civilian judges are fundamentally hostile to the concept of indefinite detention under wartime protocols that do not require proof of a crime. With no political accountability to the voters whose lives are at stake, and no guidance from Congress regarding the rules for these detention proceedings, judges have made abominable rulings, vacating the combatant designations of detainees who were trained in terror camps and clearly connected to the jihadist network.

So far, these rulings have not resulted in detainees' being released in the United States. But that is only because, at present, the detainees are physically kept outside of the country. In the 2005 Real ID Act, Congress barred aliens who either have been members of terrorist organizations or have received paramilitary training in terrorist camps from entering our nation. Though one judge has tried to order detainees released here regardless, his order was reversed on appeal. Other judges have been hesitant to hold that their power to review detention rulings implies a power to order detainees released, much less released in the United States, in defiance of statutory proscription.

Once the terrorists are already in the country, though, that hesitancy will vanish. Anyone who doubts that has not been watching the courts' pro-terrorist decisions over the last eight years, to say nothing of such rulings as the 9th Circuit's recent directive that California release over 40,000 convicted inmates in order to relieve the supposed overcrowding in the state's prisons. Indeed, the Obama administration has already floated the idea of releasing Gitmo detainees in the U.S. — and providing public welfare payments to support them — as an example for other countries to follow. And Jennifer Daskal, now advising Holder on detainee issues, spent years as a Human Rights Watch activist campaigning for Gitmo to be shuttered, and detainees released in the United States, if other countries are unwilling to take them. Human Rights Watch also maintains that U.S. "supermax" prisons, where terrorists convicted in civilian courts are incarcerated, are inhumane.

Even if they are not released, the presence of terrorists in American prisons creates enormous security problems. In 2000, while purportedly preparing for his trial on charges of bombing U.S. embassies in Africa, an al-Qaeda inmate maimed a prison guard in an attempt to break himself and his confederates out of jail. Sayyid Nosair helped plot the 1993 World Trade Center bombing from Attica prison in New York, even as he recruited new terrorists and conspired to escape. Despite maximum-security confinement conditions, other WTC bombers were permitted to communicate by mail with overseas terror cells. And from the federal prison where he is serving a life sentence for terrorism, the notorious "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman, issued the fatwa approving the 9/11 attacks. With the help of his now-convicted lawyer, he continued guiding his Egyptian terrorist organization.

Despite this record, the Obama administration says it can securely detain additional hundreds of terrorists. This claim would be hard to swallow even if Holder's Justice Department were not now caving in to jihadists' complaints that confinement conditions in civilian prisons are too onerous. DOJ has just moved the "shoe bomber," Richard Reid, into the general prison population after he contended that heightened security measures designed to hinder terrorists violated the First Amendment by denying his alleged right to communal prayer with other jihadists.

The detainees should be kept at Gitmo. Situated on a U.S. naval base outside the country, it optimizes security and minimizes the threat imprisoned terrorists pose to the public. It is a fastidiously humane facility. With the trumped-up critiques of Gitmo muted by the embarrassing reluctance of its severest European critics to accept custody of the prisoners, none but the most inflexible leftists are bothering about its continued operation. Gitmo is money well spent. The TCC would be money poorly spent — and a dangerous blunder.