Closing the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is necessary legally and diplomatically. But simply moving the prisoners to another facility is meaningless unless the men move closer to trial. Indefinite detention, whether in Illinois, Cuba or elsewhere, is unconstitutional and counterproductive in fighting terrorism.
“I’d like to end Guantanamo. I’d like it to be over with,” President George W. Bush said in June 2006, but he wanted to hear more from the courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the foreign detainees at Guatanamo cannot be held indefinitely without access to the judicial system. Their indefinite detention was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, the court said.
Immediately upon taking office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close Gitmo. Since then, his administration has been looking for a place to put the 200 detainees still held there.
The biggest hurdle to closing Gitmo is finding places — in the U.S. and other countries — to hold the remaining detainees. The Obama administration took steps to clear that hurdle Tuesday in announcing a plan to move about 100 of the men to a state prison in Illinois, which the federal government will purchase and run.
Some members of Congress and Illinois politicians have pledged to block the move.
Several terrorist suspects are already held in U.S. prisons. None has escaped or plotted terrorist attacks.
As criminal justice professor and Bangor native Eric Williams points out, plenty of supposedly dangerous men — including shoe bomber Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — are housed at a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo.
Mr. Williams, a professor at Sonoma State University in California, said the prison’s former warden, Robert Wood, told him he is far more worried about the gang members than the 40 terrorists held there.
Prisons, especially in rural parts of the country, have become a source of jobs and revenue for local economies. So several towns, including Thomson, Ill., jumped at the chance to house the Guantanamo detainees.
Detention of men accused of terrorism shouldn’t be about jobs — and does the government really need to hire hundreds of people to keep watch over 100 men? — it should be about securely holding them until they can be tried and sentenced.
Moving them closer to judicial hearings is more important than where they are detained.