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NIBYism in the Senate

Narcolepsy on Gitmo Detainees

by ANDY WORTHINGTON

Last week, in an overwhelming display of conservative paranoia and liberal befuddlement, the US Senate voted by 94-3 to approve an amendment by Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, the Senior Republican Senator for Kentucky and a champion of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard), declaring that prisoners in Guantánamo should not be transferred to facilities on the US mainland. McConnell’s amendment stated that detainees, "including senior members of al-Qaeda, should not be released to American society" or transferred into "facilities in American communities and neighborhoods." According to Townhall.com, "The bill was titled in a way that [Senators] had to vote yes to vote no, and no to vote yes," adding that, "Before the Democrats, who clearly hadn’t read the amendment, realized they screwed up, the vote was recorded."

Having blind-sided the sleeping Democrats to such an extent that Townhall.com entitled its article, "The Night Mitch McConnell became the leader of the Republican Party," McConnell spelled out his concerns in an outpouring of NIMBYist sentiment, ignoring the fact that the military brigs to which detainees would likely be transferred–Fort Leavenworth and Charleston–are located in Kansas and South Carolina, and raising the ludicrous specter of a bin Laden in every neighborhood. "Some in Congress have actually proposed that we require the President to move terrorist detainees held at Guantánamo Bay to the continental United States and keep them here," he fulminated. "That means moving them into facilities in cities and small towns across America in states like California and Illinois and Kentucky. Well, I can guarantee you that my constituents don’t want terrorists housed in their backyards in Fort Knox, Fort Wright or anywhere else within the Commonwealth. I know I don’t."

Those pressing for the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo to the US mainland don’t want "terrorists" transferred to your backyards either, Senator, and no one is suggesting that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the handful of other dangerous men held in Guantánamo would end up on day release seeking out electrical components in a yard sale in suburban Louisville. We could argue endlessly about what will happen to the "hard-core" al-Qaeda members held in Guantánamo (up to 80 men, according to the government, but no more than three dozen, according to senior officials cited by the New York Times in June 2004, plus the "high value" detainees transferred in September 2006). What the proposal to close Guantánamo is really about, however, as Donald Rumsfeld’s replacement Robert Gates stated when he took the job of defense secretary in November (before he was muffled by Dick Cheney), is to overcome the fact that the current system of indefinite detention without trial has "become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate."

Any move to amend the current situation would, of course, be fraught with problems–a tsunami of civil litigation if the detainees were allowed access to the federal courts; rather less if the military brig option were pursued–but a collective hissy fit by a group of old men with no imagination beyond the parochial is no answer to the ongoing injustice of the Guantánamo regime. 365 men are currently held in Guantánamo, and not a single one of them has actually been found to be a "terrorist" in anywhere other than the recesses of the President’s brain, or in the tribunals at Guantánamo, in which, as former insider Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham recently explained, the gathering of materials was severely flawed, relying on intelligence "of a generalized nature," which was often outdated and often "generic," and the whole system was geared towards rubber-stamping the detainees’ prior designation as "enemy combatants."

Senator McConnell may wish to reflect that one of "terrorists" to whom he alludes–a Yemeni named Mahmoud al-Mujahid, who is still in Guantánamo–was judged as having an association with Osama bin Laden because he saw him on TV. "I have never physically seen Osama bin Laden," al-Mujahid explained to his tribunal. When pressed that he had "admitted to knowing Osama bin Laden," during prior interrogation, he again explained, "I never knew Osama bin Laden. When the interrogators kept bothering me with this question, I told them, ‘I saw him five times, three on al-Jazeera, and twice on Yemeni news.’ After this they kept after me really hard. I told them, ‘OK, I know him, whatever you want. Just give me a break.’"

ANDY WORTHINGTON (www.andyworthington.co.uk) is a British historian, and the author of ‘The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison’ (to be published by Pluto Press in October 2007).
He can be reached at: andy@andyworthington.co.uk