Gitmo to Alcatraz: Sarcastic or stupid?

Inanity erupted in both chambers of Congress yesterday. (Big surprise.)

In the House, it was Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee’s ranking Republican.

“Alcatraz would be a good place to put these people,’’ he said yesterday of the detainees who will have to be moved out of their prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within the next year under an executive order signed Thursday by President Barack Obama. “There’s a lot of discomfort about the idea of bringing the detainees in to the United States. That’s why I’ve suggested Alcatraz.”

In the Senate, it was U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.

“I can’t think of any city or town across this country that will be thrilled to have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah living down the street,” said the Senate Intelligence Committee’ ranking Republican. “If you really want to bring them back to the United States, people in Missouri and Kansas believe Gitmo is just fine. Folks in San Francisco want it closed. I’d suggest you put them in Alcatraz.”

So… stupid, or sarcastic? Follow me after the jump as we tackle both possibilities…

Let’s deal first with stupid.

If these men detained at Guantanamo Bay truly are the most dangerous terrorists in the world, the worst of the worst, all hell-bent on destroying our way of life, wouldn’t we want to put them someplace secure?

“The Castle” – the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. – is the Defense Department’s only maximum-security prison. Its staff of soldiers is specially trained in dealing with the worst we’ve got. A new, state-of-the-art, 515-bed facility replaced the aging buildings there in 2002. It’s part of an active military base.

“The Rock” – Alcatraz – started its career as a military prison in 1868 but was converted to a federal prison in the 1930s; the main cell block dates to 1912, “modernized” in 1934. Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered it shut down in 1963 because it was too expensive to operate compared to other prisons; had been severely eroded by salt water; and was badly polluting the Bay. It’s part of a National Recreation Area, a tourist attraction.

So, where’s the better place to put the Guantanamo Bay detainees? Unless, of course, Young and Bond are saying we should raze a national landmark and spend a few hundred million (the new Leavenworth military prison cost $67.8 million, but that was several years ago and wasn’t on an island) to build some state-of-the-art War on Terror prison in its place.

Wait… what’s that you say? Perhaps Young and Bond were being sarcastic and unserious? Well, why the hell is that?

This is no joking matter. We have detainees who many claim are the most dangerous men in the world. The place and the way in which we’ve detained them for years now has been recognized by the world as a miscarriage of justice and human rights, a betrayal of our Constitutional values. Our new President campaigned on a promise to put this right, and delivered on that promise on his first full day in office. And now we have senior Congressional Republicans devolving into schoolchildren, cracking jokes of the “if-you-love-them-so-much,-why-don’t-you-marry them” ilk.

If these prisoners are appropriately detained, it doesn’t matter where they are because they won’t be able to get out. Are Young and Bond implying that after years of debating Guantanamo Bay and with another year in which to act on the President’s new order, this great nation of ours still won’t be able to find a prison capable of holding these men? It’s not as if violent Islamic fundamentalism is a contagious disease that can be borne on the wind through prison bars to settle nefariously upon the sleeping faces of some nearby town. And if these men eventually are acquitted or charges against them are dropped, it’s not as if we’ll just push them through the prison gate with bus fare and a sandwich; they’ll surely be sent out of the country, as have the hundreds of people released from Guantanamo Bay so far.

But make no mistake, Young, Bond and their cohorts aren’t really mounting a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) argument. They oppose closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center and bringing these men stateside not so much for safety and security concerns, but rather because they know that when we do, we might have to consider the detainees’ Constitutional rights in a way that we’ve refused to do thus far. We might have to treat them according to our system of justice, not some ad hoc system we’ve set up outside the normal currents of American law. We might even find out more about how they’ve been treated these last few years.

Young and Bond simply want the Guantanamo Bay detainees to remain invisible, and apparently they’ll say almost anything to muddy the waters moving forward.


Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Arne Simonsen

    Perhaps the Congressman should consider some of the former Minuteman missile silos in North Dakota! They are heavily reinforced and underground, so no one would see the detainees 🙂

  • Matilda Pennington