Closing Guantanamo

Normally I don’t do this, but I’m about to copy today’s Gail Collins column from the NY Times here.  I’ve done this before–once I copied a post from Andy Borowitz, and another time from Dave Barry of the Miami Herald, where I more or less begged them not to prosecute me for giving them more publicity.  Today Collins ‘ op-ed concerns the closing of the Guantanamo prison.  I was about to post my own thoughts on it, but some days, people just say it better than you ever could.  Okay.  Gail Collins always says it better than I ever could. 

I just remembered that I was going to let Gail Collins speak for me.  Yeah.  What she said. 

When Did Cowboys Get Wimpy?


Published: May 22, 2009

Out of all the problems we have run into in dealing with the giant hairball that is known as the Bush War on Terror, one of the weirdest is the reaction to President Obama’s plan to close down Guantánamo.


In the rank of threats to public safety, putting the Guantánamo inmates in maximum-security prisons in the United States has got to come in way behind, say, making it easy for customers to purchase firearms at gun shows.

But to hear the howls coming from Congress, you’d think the Obama administration was planning to house the prisoners in suburban preschools. “Terrorists. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you,” warned a Republican Web video, which mixed pictures of accused terrorists with road signs in states where the G.O.P. predicted they might be sent. In another production, the occasionally loyal opposition resurrected the infamous “Daisy” countdown ad to show a little girl picking petals off a flower while the president prepares to close Gitmo.

“To bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come,” snarled Dick Cheney in his “no middle ground” speech. Although really, for the sake of the national mental health, it might be better if we all just ignore the former vice president until he agrees to undergo therapy. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Instead, consider the case of Hardin, Mont., a community of 3,400 people just down the road from the place where Custer made his Last Stand.

Lately, things have not been going any better for Hardin than they did for the general. Unemployment is rife. “You go look at our downtown, there’s many closed businesses … you’ll see drunks laying in the street. It’s not a pretty sight,” the head of the town’s economic development authority told National Public Radio. The town built a $27 million, 464-bed prison under the theory that other parts of the state would pay to have Hardin look after their problem residents. But it’s been empty since it was declared open for business nearly two years ago, and the construction loans are in default.

So, with the town council’s enthusiastic support, Hardin volunteered to take the Guantánamo prisoners.

It’s unlikely that the White House would have accepted the offer, but it was certainly an example of pluck and you’d think everyone would give Hardin three cheers. Instead, Montana’s Democratic senators went ballistic.

“We’re not going to bring Al Qaeda to Big Sky Country — no way, not on my watch,” said Max Baucus.

“If these prisoners need a new place, it’s not going to be anywhere near The Last Best Place,” said Jon Tester.

This shows us two things:

1) Montana has given itself many nicknames.

2) Montanans are more easily frightened than Manhattanites.

Think about it. New Yorkers live in the top terror target in the nation. This week four new would-be terrorists were arrested for plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx. On the same day, President Obama announced that the first Guantánamo prisoner to be tried in the United States would be coming to court in Lower Manhattan.

Even though it appears the guys involved in the Bronx case were deeply, deeply inept, this is still not the kind of news package you want to hear. But nobody had a fit over it. “Bottom line is we have had terrorists housed in New York before,” said Senator Charles Schumer.

New Yorkers aren’t the only ones who have learned to calmly resist both international terrorism and national hysteria. The small town of Florence, Colo., has a 490-bed high-security facility known as Supermax, which houses 33 terrorists, including Ramzi Yousef, who led the first World Trade Center bombing; the failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid; and Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The local residents seem fine with it, possibly because they know the prisoners spend 23 hours a day in their cells, which are made of poured concrete and furnished with concrete tables and bunks.

Nobody escapes from maximum-security prisons. But even if they did, who would you rather have on the lam in your neighborhood — a native of Afghanistan whose history suggests an affinity for jihad? Or a resident of your own state whose history suggests an affinity for breaking into people’s houses, tying them up and torturing them?

The nation, as we all know, is divided into crowded states and empty states, and I was always under the impression that folks in the empty places were particularly brave and self-reliant. Those of us who live in the crowded parts have many good qualities, but we are not necessarily all of pioneer stock, given the critical importance we assign to restaurants that deliver at 2 in the morning.

Who knew we were tougher than Montanans?


9 responses to “Closing Guantanamo

  1. By any chance, is Brokeback Mountain located in Montana or is it a fictional place? That’s where we need to send Tester and Baucus. I knew Baucus was a punk but Tester seemed liked a cowboy.

  2. This is why our system needs an overhaul. States like Montana, with 57 residents, get two Senators, just like California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois.

  3. You do know that the Senate representation is that way on purpose, right? To prevent the more-populous states from being able to railroad something through into a law by sheer numbers.

    States get Congressional representation relative to population, which is why the census, and how it counts transients and the homeless, is such a big deal.

  4. Wow, giving civics lessons must run in our family 🙂 But now that you mention it, I do sort of remember something about that two-Senator rule…

  5. Taking off my political hat and putting on my economic development one. Siting a prison is only part of the process of opening one. It is complicated building one to state and/or federal specifications. A super max is even more so.

    Hardin has accomplished several hurdles in the process; the next step is staffing it and then finding a source of inmates that carry a revenue stream large enough to make the prison operationally sound. There are formulas and certifications that must be attained. Staffing a prison requires having available and qualified workforce for start up and ongoing attrition. There is a minimum educational attainment factor that will eliminate many of the unemployed, a minimum qualifications factor that will eliminate more and an experience factor that will eliminate even more. It is quite possible that Hardin would have to attract a significant portion of their workforce. Don’t know squat about it, but on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “trailing spouse” opportunity in the surrounding communities so attracting families may prove very difficult.

    A prison is like a mini hotel it requires all the supply chain that a 460 bed hotel requires. Food supplies, medical supplies, sanitary supplies, contractors who meet federal specifications for maintenance and repair. Prisons are also unique in their need for access to legal support services as there are a constant flow of legal activities to the courts, not the least of which is almost daily barrage of law suites filed by the inmates. Have an idea that the closest Federal Court venue would be a “fer piece.”

    From reading the attached article it appears that The Economic Development Authority was sold a pig in a poke, now they have to bale out their defaulting bonds.

    There are a couple of pluses for the feds. The start up costs would be low, all the inmates from Guantanamo could go there ……..a huge logistical advantage, and it would not disrupt and complicate other existing super max operations. Overall it might boil down to the infrastructure and location limitations (rural/urban) versus the political and democratic process issues that this administration has mandated.

  6. I read that article from the Billings Gazette and it was quite interesting, as were your comments. It does make me wonder why you would build a prison with no demand for it. “Pig in a poke” is as good an explanation as any. Economic development-wise, it would seem that if they were able to open it, some businesses would follow to serve the needs of workers and their families.
    Is seems to me that the advantages you list outweigh the disadvantages. Those advantages are huge. Another advantage is that this is a community willing to do it, whereas others may be succumbing to the Republicans’ drumming up of hysteria about it. I can think of no better place for the detainees than “the middle of nowhere”. The Gazette article mentioned that it is 45 miles from the nearest federal courthouse. I don’t know the rules for these things, but why can’t the court come to the prison? It would seem safer than transporting the prisoners.

  7. They could do it via video…

  8. Good point. Fakename does not think about the high-tech solutions, being digitally challenged. For that matter, the trials could therefore be conducted at Gitmo. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that it counts as American soil. Try them, convict them (or not) and put the guilty into American prisons for life. Or execute them. Gitmo has to be closed because of the symbol it has become. Abu Graib has already been closed.
    And btw, I am not totally opposed to the idea of military commissions or tribunals instead of “normal” trials. From reading The Dark Side, I came away with the impression that they are not the kangaroo courts some are making them out to be.

  9. Pingback: GTMO! « eehard’s Weblog

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