Pros and cons of terrorist transfers from Gitmo

The U.S. Justice Department today announced that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since September 2006, arrived early this morning in the Southern District of New York to face criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.

Bringing anyone from Guantanamo Bay to the lower 48 has become a topic of great debate over issues of safety, constitutional rights and so forth, so of course there’s a lot of cross-talk today.

The Justice Department notes four terrorism cases involving Islamic fundamentalism, dating back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, already have been successfully prosecuted in New York City alone; others terrorism case already are pending there, and others have occurred or are in progress in other domestic courts.

“With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case.”

Other views, after the jump…

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is angry.

“This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America. Without a plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Administration has made the decision to begin transferring these terrorists into the United States, in spite of the overwhelming opposition of the American people and serious questions from Members of Congress of both parties. There are more than 200 of the world’s most dangerous men held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Does the Administration plan to transfer all of them into our nation in this way? Do they plan to give them the same legal rights as the American people? Just what is the Administration’s plan for closing this prison?

“House Republicans have introduced the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act to protect Americans from dangerous terrorists being imported into our communities. Specifically, this legislation would require the Administration to receive certification from state governors and legislatures before a terrorist is transferred into their states. Does New York’s governor support the Administration’s decision to transfer Ghailani into Manhattan? Does the state legislature? By more than a three-to-one margin, the American people do not, underscoring the urgency for the Administration to produce its plan for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.”

Ken Gude, associate director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Obama-friendly Center for American Progress, counters that Ghailani’s transfer “marks the first demonstration of the Obama administration’s commitment to closing Guantánamo and putting U.S. detention policy back on firm legal footing.

“President Barack Obama can use the trial as an example to reassure Americans that the U.S. justice system is well equipped to prosecute suspected terrorists, and U.S. maximum security prisons are capable of keeping Americans safe.”

“It is important to make this move now because Congress appears on the verge of capitulating to fear mongers and placing unwarranted restrictions on when and where the Obama administration can transfer Guantánamo detainees for either trial or release.
Some members of Congress are using the same scare tactics of our terrorist enemies and have tried to frighten the American people with ridiculous claims that Guantánamo detainees are somehow incredibly dangerous and threatening when they are locked away in maximum security U.S. prisons. The facts are, of course, that more than 200 international terrorists have been convicted in U.S. courts and reside in U.S. jails, and no one has ever escaped from a Supermax prison—the ultimate destination for Guantánamo detainees convicted in U.S. courts.

“Facts and experience are the best means to counter arguments based in fear. Great care must be taken to ensure a successful prosecution, but President Obama should now be able to go to the American people armed with a clear demonstration that America’s existing institutions are capable of keeping us safe. Even if Congress delays additional transfers for several months, the next time it considers the issue it will be confronted with the reality of an ongoing trial in federal court. The sky will not have fallen.

And, from Constitution Project President Virginia Sloan:

“This is not a partisan issue. The Constitution Project’s call for prosecutions in our traditional federal courts was endorsed by a broad coalition of conservatives and liberals alike, including over thirty-five political leaders, national security experts, legal scholars, and former federal judges and prosecutors. By transferring Ahmed Ghailani from Guantanamo into the United States to face criminal charges, the Obama administration has recognized the capacity of our nation’s federal judicial system to handle even the most difficult terrorism cases. We hope that members of Congress and all Americans will also support this effort to bring detainees to justice.

“This is an important step in restoring the United States’ observance of the rule of law, but there is still a long way to go. What remains to be seen, and what will be the true test of adherence to Constitutional principles by the Obama administration, is how the remaining terrorism suspects will be handled. If even one is entered into a policy of ‘prolonged detention,’ as suggested by President Obama last month, our nation’s commitment to the rule of law will not be realized. Detaining suspects indefinitely without charge is an abandonment of our principles and will continue to damage our nation’s security and standing in the world. The administration should follow a similar course of pursuing criminal charges in U.S. courts for those suspected terrorists who still remain at Guantanamo.”

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.

  • CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS? They get right and our Constitutional rights are being ignored, but the sad truth is, we don’t know it. We don’t know our rights, and some just don’t care. That is why we are where we are.

  • RR

    “Pros and cons” doesn’t quote any elected official “in favor” of the transfers to the mainland US.
    Detention facilities in New York don’t fit the “SuperMax” definition. Some of the terrorists held after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing did cause a lot of trouble; one detainee attacked and seriously injured a jailer. These guys are not Code Pink types.

  • Josh Richman

    Per the Justice Department:

    There are currently 216 inmates in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody who have a history of/or nexus to international terrorism. Sixty seven of these individuals were extradited to the United States for prosecution, while 149 were not extradited. Seventy two of these individuals are U.S. citizens (45 of them born in the United States, 27 of them naturalized). The “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colo. (ADX Florence), which is BOP’s most secure facility, houses 33 of these international terrorists. There has never been an escape from ADX Florence, and BOP has housed some of these international terrorists since the early 1990s. In addition to the ADX Florence, the BOP houses such individuals in the Communications Management Units at Terre Haute, Ind., and Marion, Ill., as well as in other facilities among different institutions around the country.

    Also, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Jack Reed, R-R.I.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. all voted last month against language “to prohibit funding to transfer, release, or incarcerate detainees detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to or within the United States.” And of course there’s President Obama, who is most certainly an elected official.

  • RR

    Jack Reed is a Democrat, last time I looked.

  • Josh Richman

    Whoops, my bad — sorry.