The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight


May 20, 2009

Republicans say they don’t want terrorists in their backyard — even if their backyard is a federal maximum security prison.

Apparently, Democrats in Congress are somewhat frightened by this stance because they have refused to provide $80 million to finance the closing of Gitmo. They will deny funds until the Obama administration provides a plan to provide justice for the prisoners at Gitmo.

While that use of leverage might make some sense, the Republican argument against moving prisoners to the US is purely political theater. It simply doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny. Consider:

1. U.S. federal prisons already host a number of convicted al Qaeda terrorists.

2. The U.S. has more people in prison than any other country — both in absolute and relative terms. The U.S. is good at confining people.

3. Many U.S. prisoners were really bad people on the outside — and some of them tried to inspire violent action by likeminded people. Charles Manson. John Gotti. Timothy McVeigh. Jeffrey Dahmer.

4. Very importantly, most of the detainees at Gitmo are not hardened terrorists. In fact, the evidence to-date reveals quite the opposite.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a bad man, but he’s a mid-40s guy in custody and largely isolated from the outside world.

I’m pretty sure the U.S. could imprison him and other inmates without too much trouble.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.