Politics Of Tough

by Chris Bodenner

A reader from Illinois responds to Jennifer Rubin's opposition to the detainee transfer to Thomson, IL:

We'd love to have those Gitmo prisoners here. And we'd love to have them break out. They would last maybe two days in that part of Illinois. People here are armed and dangerous and as soon as it went on the local news that somebody had gotten out of that prison. I know at least a couple of dozen guys who'd be out there, armed to the teeth, looking for some "personal" revenge for 9/11. I don't know where you live Lady, but Americans, real Americans, would love the chance to hunt us some terrorist scum in the plains. It'd be fun.

I imagine the reader is exaggerating, but I think his underlying sentiment -- "we're not afraid of these bastards" -- has been underrepresented in the debate over detainees, particularly among conservatives. The old partisan stereotypes say that Republicans are tough when it comes to national security and Democrats are weak. Yet in the current debate over Thompson and other prison sites, Republicans are the ones screeching with fright. The party of "Bring 'Em On" has changed its tune to "Not In My Backyard."

Yet when you actually talk to people living near potential prison sites -- as I've done in Leavenworth, KS, and Standish, MI -- you quickly find that a great deal of them, regardless of political bent, are not afraid. And many of those who are afraid were driven to fear because of the hysterical rhetoric and misleading information from their leaders.

One of the most impressive characters I met in Standish was Dale Hughes, a state prison supervisor. Dale, if allowed to guard detainees, faced the most personal risk of anyone. Yet he never thought twice about doing his duty.  Here's what he told me in an early draft of the TNR piece:

The mayor is on board, as is the outspoken city manager, Michael Moran. "If anybody did escape, they'd have a surprise. We're a community of hunters," said Moran, a former Air Force policeman. While Granholm has taken a wait-and-see approach, both Michigan Senators support the transfer. One of them, Carl Levin, told CBS's Bob Schieffer: "We cannot allow the terrorists to be intimidating us from trying them and keeping them in our jails."

Dale Hughes, a Standish Max supervisor, is far from intimidated. "We have Level-5 guys who are just as bad as these jokers," he says, referring to detainees. One guy in Level-5 -- the most dangerous category of prisoners -- recently pulled Dale's arm through a food slot, requiring shoulder surgery. "Had he gotten my arm just right he could have broken it at the elbow. I'm healing well and don't hold a grudge, it's just something that can happen in my line of work."

Dale, age 57, also won't hold a grudge if he must forgo his job and home to a federal guard. "If you have to sacrifice those of us who work there for the surrounding community," so be it, Dale says. "Most of us will still have jobs at other facilities, and Standish and Arenac County will get the federal money, the tax money, the sewer money."

The rest of the story -- which centers on the efforts of a Republican gubernatorial candidate, Pete Hoekstra, to block a transfer to Standish -- is here. One of Hoekstra's opponents in the race, state senator Tom George, is one of the few Michigan Republicans who supports a transfer. And he has used the sort of rhetoric that national Democrats (like the spineless Harry Reid) could learn from:

During World War II, Michigan was the site of more than a dozen prisoner-of-war camps. We accounted for approximately 20 percent of America’s armament production. The Ford Willow Run plant, which employed my grandfather, produced more than 300,000 military aircraft. Other Michigan plants manufactured tanks, jeeps and guns. Despite the risks of making Michigan a military target, our citizens did not hesitate to aid the war effort.

Hopefully more Republicans, and Democrats, will take that same cue from the Greatest Generation. The trial and imprisonment of detainees is one of the very few issues that should rise about partisanship. Steve Benen, writing about Thomson this morning, offers some hope:

[T]he split won't fall along traditional left-right lines -- some prominent conservative leaders are on board with the transfer plan, too. In a joint statement prepared by the Constitution Project, David Keene, founder of American Conservative Union, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and former representative and presidential candidate Bob Barr, the conservatives said moving suspected terrorists to the Thomson prison facility "makes good sense." They added, in a message to the GOP, "The scaremongering about these issues should stop."