Fisking NewMajority

by Chris Bodenner

Specifically, Elise Cooper, who just blogged a dreadful post called "No Terrorists In My Backyard." I normally wouldn't fisk an opinion piece on the Gitmo transfer, but Cooper purports to have real reporting: "NewMajority has interviewed 9/11 families, security experts and members of Congress. All agree: Not here." However, of the six sources she quotes, six are Republicans. And they include prominent figures such as Cantor and Chertoff, so casual readers might get the impression that the piece is relevant journalism. In reality, it reads like a cobbled-together press release.

Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA) pointed out to NewMajority that a similar facility to Pendleton in Mirimar [sic], CA, held illegal detainees which turned into an absolute disaster.  A riot broke out and the facility had to be locked down.

A prison on lockdown?!  Oh nos!

I just spent the last 15 minutes trying to find details about the cataclysmic riot she's referring to, but I came up empty. And what exactly are "illegal detainees"? Were they detained illegally?  Is Cooper implying that the military broke the law? (Or simply that Marines at Pendleton can't handle a bunch of shackled, shell-shocked prisoners from a Navy base called Gitmo?)

Bob and Shirley Hemenway who live in Kansas and lost their son at the Pentagon on 9/11 were concerned that Americans do not understand the ramifications of bringing the terrorists to American territory.  They pointed out that Leavenworth is not a maximum security prison and logistically it is unsafe because it is surrounded by an airport, military housing, and a lake.

Maybe something has changed since I visited Fort Leavenworth two weeks ago, but that "lake" looks a lot like the Missouri River.  And I take "military housing" to mean a "US Army base housing the 705th MP Battalion, an elite detention unit that trained guards at Gitmo." Also, the prison has about a mile of forest separating it from military housing. In fact, the fort's old prison - which housed serial killers and rapists as recently as 2002 - was literally in the backyard of my brother's middle-school girlfriend's house, 50 feet from her back door. But, to the most painful part of Cooper's paragraph: the USDB does have a maximum-security unit - it's famous for being the only prison in the US military to have one.

Finally, my heart sincerely goes out to the Hemenways over their unimaginable loss, and they have a lot to say about the fears of local residents - a serious consideration for any transfer. But why does Cooper think they are experts on prison logistics?

The prison in Standish, Michigan is also being considered.  In August, Congressman Pete Hoekstra held a town hall meeting to discuss this issue.  He stated that the crowd there was “overwhelmingly in favor of keeping them (the terrorists) in Gitmo. [...] The people don’t support it.”

The mayor, city manager, state representative, congressman, and most of the residents of Standish actually support the transfer. But yes, Cooper is right; a Republican congressman representing a district on the other side of Michigan - who just happens to be running for governor - is against the idea. Also, I was at that Hoekstra gathering last month. It wasn't a "town hall," it was an "Anti-Gitmo" rally - even the directional sign outside said so. Turnout was actually much lower than expected (around 200 of the anticipated 600 showed up), and the city manager even told NewsHour that many of the attendees had arrived from the other side of the state.

There is also the danger of mixing the terrorist population and the general criminal element.

No, there isn't. The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits that.

Senator James Inhofe feels that “the prisons holding them will become magnets for extremists.”

This is the same reliable source who said yesterday: "I don’t know why President Obama is obsessed with turning terrorists loose in America."

LAPD Chief Bratton concurs and stated to NewMajority that “a significant number of prisoners have been recruited to become radical jihadists.  It has become a frequent source of problems.”

Huh? Where? When? Within LA prisons? How is that relevant to Kansas or Michigan? And shouldn't we be alerting the FBI that the California prison system is a breeding ground for radical jihadists?

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff who recently wrote a book about the future challenges to homeland security commented to NewMajority that a real fear is the ability of terrorists in American prisons communicating to the outside world.

Shorter Chertoff: "I don't think military guards can handle it. Buy my book!"

All those interviewed agree that without a game plan in place the terrorists should not be moved to American soil.

Riveting insight. Someone should alert the president about this whole "plan" concept.

Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) commented to NewMajority that the detainees should not be brought to America because “we are in the shadow world of terrorists who are not conventional combatants.”


By moving detainees to the United States a considerable cost will be incurred to restructure the existing detention facilities.

When did Republicans become fiscally conservative on military spending?

As Congressman Bilbray noted “Gitmo is surrounded on three sides by bodies of water and the terrorists should not be moved to densely urban areas which could threaten the surrounding population."

Leavenworth County: 159 /sq mi. 
Arenac County, MI: 47 /sq mi.
New York County: 71,201 /sq mi.

Former Secretary Chertoff’s bottom line is that the Obama administration should not close Guantanamo Bay without a well thought out plan.

Again with this "plan" talk!  So demanding!  And what does "plan" even mean?

He explained that “there needs to be a lot of careful planning and consideration about what the options are if someone is going to close it"

Ah, that clears it up.

***Memo to Obama***  Make a plan. You can start by creating a task force. Then maybe send some officials to tour the prisons. Then you can delay the confirmation of your new Army Secretary - oh, sorry, Brownback and Roberts took care of that.

In all seriousness, it is a tad unsettling that Obama - less than five months away from his Gitmo deadline - hasn't even announced which prisons will be used. But, for obvious reasons of national security (something Republicans are usually sensitive to), the administration isn't going to disclose specific steps for a transfer beforehand.

Personally, I trust the Department of Defense to ensure the safety of any transfer, and for Obama to make the issue a top priority. People will probably scoff and say that I have blind faith in the president. I don't; I have blind faith in his political self-interest. Bringing terrorist suspects to the US will be the most combustible national security issue of 2010 - perhaps of his entire presidency. His political survival is at stake to get it right (and especially right, since the GOP is already poised to exploit any perceived hiccup).

For me, this is the bottom line: There is a decent case to be made that closing Gitmo and transferring detainees to the US is not worth the risk. But misinformed, misleading, and fear-based NIMBY arguments do a great disservice to the people of Leavenworth, Standish, and the US military charged with protecting them.

[I deleted a needless point at the end]