The closing of Guantanamo and worries about where to put the detainees have become an interesting dilemma which forces politicians on both sides to reveal how they will address these issues. Over the weekend we saw two contrasting approaches.
Sen. Jim Webb, who was mute as fellow Virginian Rep. Jim Moran cheerfully offered up Alexandria as a detainee destination, has had second thoughts on the whole notion of closing Guantanamo. The Hill reports:
Webb, appearing on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” with Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, said that after reviewing Obama’s plans to close the facility within one year, he doesn’t agree with the president’s time schedule and he opposes bringing any detainees to U.S. soil.
“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases,” Webb said. “There are cases against international law. These aren’t people who were in the United States, committing a crime in the United States. These are people who were brought to Guantanamo for international terrorism. I do not believe they should be tried in the United States.”
When pressed on the year deadline, Webb suggested the administration might have to be more flexible as it figures out where to send detainees.
“They’ve said a lot of things and taken a look and said some other things,” Webb said. “So let’s process these people in a very careful way and then take care of it.”
Webb is Virginia’s first prominent Democrat to come out in opposition to the president’s scheme — a move that will only highlight the reticence of other Democrats (e.g. Rep. Gerry Connolly, Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner) to oppose the administration. Webb has apparently figured out that the decision to close Guantanamo, forged in the fire of a campaign, is now increasingly seen as politically toxic and, frankly, a dumb idea. As Bill Kristol pointed out:
Some people are not going to be able to be tried, and he’s going to hold them, and the only thing different is that he intends to hold them at Leavenworth instead of Guantanamo.
And I’m not sure he’s going to reverse — not going to reverse on that, because I think at some point the American public says, “So you’re holding these people, and you’re closing a $200 million state- of-the-art facility to move them 1,000 or 2,000 miles to a new facility we’re going to have to build? For what? What’s the point…”
But that realization hasn’t struck all politicians. The issue is has now made it into New Jersey’s gubernatorial primary. Steve Lonegan who likes to fancy himself as the hardcore conservative (despite his tax hike plan) had this exchange with former U.S. attorney Chris Christie in a debate on Saturday:
Christie: “Steve you should answer my question, are you pledging that you as governor would prevent any terrorist from Guantanamo Bay from coming to a New Jersey prison?….
Lonegan: “I want them in prison and if that terrorist has to be in prison in New Jersey that is where they belong.”
Christie: So you are going to welcome terrorists to New Jersey prisons. Good glad we cleared that up.
Not surprisingly Christie has now jumped on the issue, using it to highlight his own law-and-order credentials. The lesson: even in a state race, a candidate’s position on this issue may become critical.
Politicians around the country will need to choose the Webb route or the Lonegan/Moran one. And then voters will decide whether they want their elected leaders rolling out the welcome mat for the detainees. As the White House observes this unfold, they will take note of the political consequences and assess whether that one-year deadline to close Guantanamo is one which should be allowed to pass quietly.