Commentary Magazine


RE: No Risk, They Say?

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.