As soon as I heard the NPR report this evening about President Obama’s decision to close the shameful, extra-legal American base at Guantanamo Bay, I knew how Senator Daines and Representative Zinke would respond: with the same bedwetting fear that characterized their efforts to deny child refugees from Syria a chance for a new life in the United States. And, while I wasn’t surprised when I read their statements to the press, it’s hard not to be disappointed.
According to Senator Daines, a relocation of the inmates at Guantanamo will result in their placement right next to an American school, where most of our Super MAX prisons are apparently located:
“Moving these suspected terrorists to our shores could present another politically attractive target for a terrorist attack within our borders. Closing Guantanamo Bay with the intention to move suspected terrorists near our families, schools and neighborhoods could result in foreign terrorist suspects receiving legal protections under the U.S. Constitution, which go beyond the legal rights they currently have.
That’s not just cowardly; it’s idiotic. Daines has both seen too many movies about super terrorists and seen too few documents about the location of our most secure prison facilities, which one presumes are already at a safe distance from elementary schools. Daines is less concerned about the real threat to our families, schools, and neighborhoods that the scourge of gun violence represents, presumably because donations from the NRA are more important than saving lives.
Even more deplorable is his position that those held at Guantanamo do not deserve the legal protections afforded by the Constitution. When it comes to the Second Amendment, Republicans never tire of reminding us that our constitutional rights do not come from government, but are natural rights that all men and women are entitled to. To continue to prosecute a war against terrorists—in the name of protecting our way of life—while arguing that the rights that best embody American values are too dangerous to give all people is to negate the values we assert that war is for.
Representative Zinke managed, in his statement, the double task of self-promotion and cowardice. While polishing his medals and cowering under a desk in the Capitol, he said:
“I cannot stress enough how dangerous President Obama’s plan is, and the threats it poses to Americans at home and abroad are real. The President believes these terrorists are reformable, but I – and the men and women I commanded – know the truth,” Zinke said in an email Tuesday. “I helped put many of these criminals in jail and unfortunately I know the atrocities they’ve committed.”
I’m surprised that Zinke didn’t remind Montana voters that he killed or captured 72 militants in his statement, but hardly surprised that he’s continuing to pander to the fear-filled “patriot” movement who lack the courage to let US law and American courts deal with those held at Guantanamo.
Both Senator Daines and Representative Zinke endlessly claim that President Obama has somehow made the nation weaker, but what could make the US appear weaker than telling the world that we lack the facilities and the courage necessary to detain a handful of prisoners? What could make us look weaker than maintaining what Amnesty International called the gulag of our time?
To his credit, Senator Tester defended the President’t plan, writing:
Closing Guantanamo protects American values and our national security. Terrorists have been using this facility as a recruiting tool, and that will end. As the closure takes place, I’ll be working to ensure the detainees are transferred only to military or Supermax prisons where they will be unable to harm Americans or our allies.
The status of these prisoners seems clear: if there is enough evidence to convict them of crimes—in American courts, following American legal protections— the US should continue to hold them in prisons. If not, no matter how fearful the Republicans are, we simply lack the legal or moral authority to hold them in an extra-legal prison in Guantanamo.
Guantanamo Bay (and the black prisons) operated across the world during the War on Terror are some of the worst stains on the foreign policy legacy of the United States in modern times. We held innocents there, tortured prisons for useless information, imprisoned minors, and held low-level detainees unaffiliated with terrorists groups, most without real trials and many without even clear probable cause for their detention.
Moving the detainees now is too little, too late, and cannot erase the black mark on the United States, but it’s one small step towards recognizing what was done was a terrible wrong. That Congressman Zinke and Senator Daines are so willing to pander to base fears is nothing new, of course, but another disappointment in records filled with governing—and politicking—through fear.