After Funding Snag, Is Gitmo Alternative Still Viable?

Congress balks at buying the detention center in Illinois. Should we consider another option?

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The plan to move many detainees housed at Guantanamo Bay to a mostly-vacant prison in Thomson, Illinois, was met with nods of approval. Liberals were glad to see signs that President Obama was acting on his campaign promise to shut down the Cuba-based detention facility. But now that plan has a snag that could mean keeping prisoners at Guantanamo until 2011 or later. Administration officials say that Congress has refused to secure $150 million to buy the prison at Thomson, and that once they do it will take "8 to 10 months" to make the necessary alterations to the facility.

  • We Should Just Try Them  Spencer Ackerman wonders why, instead of bending over backwards to build a second Gitmo, we don't just send the detainees to trial. "Well, if Thomson hits a snag, the administration could just do what the civil liberties community wants and either charge the detainees in civilian courts or deport or release the ones it doesn’t have solid evidence to charge. The federal jurisdictions where the detainees are charged have the responsibility to detain and then imprison them post-conviction. Problem solved. That is, if the administration wants to solve the Guantanamo problem and not mutate it."
  • An Emergency Work-Around?  The New York Times's Charlie Savage reports, "Frustrated by the difficulties in obtaining financing from Congress, administration officials had discussed invoking a little-known statute that would allow the president to declare a national emergency and then use military funds allocated for other construction projects to buy and retrofit the Illinois prison. That statute, however, has never been used for a project quite like this one. Fearing that lawmakers would be angered by such a move and could respond by erasing the statute, the administration decided not to invoke it."
  • Great Way To Shut Down Thomson  Commentary's Jennifer Rubin praises the move. "Turns out that Congress stiffed the Obami on funds to convert Thomson Correctional Center into the new, domestic Guantanamo," she writes. "Now they need to cut off funds for KSM's trial." The planned New York City trial for terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has drawn criticism from conservatives like Rubin.
  • We Should Just Send Detainees Home  Talk Left's Jeralyn thinks Congress rightly balked. "It's obvious Republicans oppose the plan, but some Democrats who support closing Gitmo are uncomfortable with the idea that Obama may hold people at Thomson indefinitely without charges. The answer: Send them all home or to third countries, except for those against whom criminal charges are filed. Trial here or release."
  • We Can't Rush Gitmo Closing  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer explains why. "Obviously the administration should be working hard to close Guantanamo. But the U.S. can't afford to simply wash its hands -- there's a substantial national security interest in making sure that former detainees are treated humanely and are effectively reintegrated into society wherever they end up." He explains the difficulty of deporting detainees to Yemen, for example, which is the home of about 40% of Guantanamo detainees. "Human Rights Watch has consistently warned that repatriated Yemenis often face involuntary detention or abuse upon their return, and receive little support from the Yemeni government in terms of job training, counseling, or medical care."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.