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NIMBY mires Gitmo


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POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

Creating and then responding to public jitters about the notion of terrorists being set loose in the United States, senators have handed President Barack Obama a severe setback by refusing to approve funds to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hawaii's U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who sponsored the rebuff, and others say Guantanamo should be shut down — but seem to expect the detainees to disappear into thin air.

Obama has called for closing the Guantanamo facility by next Jan. 22, but the 90-6 Senate rebuke could postpone a closure supported by virtually everyone, including last year's Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain. Moments before Wednesday's vote, Inouye told senators that he chose to sponsor the denial of funds as chairman of the Appropriations Committee because the administration "has not yet forwarded a coherent plan for closing this prison," where 250 accused terrorists are held.

Inouye said he earlier had considered that funding be provided with the stipulation that it "would not have allowed prisoners to be relocated to the United States or released." Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid went even further: "Part of what we don't want is them be put in prisons in the United States. We don't want them around the United States."

Not In My Backyard.

Precisely what kind of plan Inouye would find coherent under those terms is a mystery. Thirty of the detainees have been cleared for release and await approval by their foreign countries, and as many as 80 are expected to be prosecuted. Where would Inouye have them await trial, serve their time or wait for deportation if not in the United States?

In a speech yesterday, Obama pointed out that "nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists." The remote fortress-like supermax prisons, made of steel and concrete, hold the country's most dangerous criminals.

Obama said the administration's "goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantanamo detainees — not to avoid one." That framework should have been completed during the Bush administration and can be accomplished after detainees have been transferred to U.S. prisons.

In Senate floor remarks, Inouye said the Guantanamo prison "is a symbol of the wrongdoings that have occurred, and we must eliminate that connection." The fact that it "remains open today serves as a powerful recruiting tool for al-Qaeda" and "a sign to many in the Arab and Muslim world of the insensitivities that some under our command demonstrated at the Abu Ghraib prison."

Obama promised to work with Congress to develop a system to deal with detainees who cannot be prosecuted in civilian or military courts "yet who pose a clear danger to the American people" so cannot simply be released. Those include Taliban commanders, al-Qaeda-trained explosive experts and associates of Osama bin Laden.

The president pledged to help devise "clear, defensible and lawful standards" for dealing with those detainees with deep hatred of the United States. How those standards can be balanced against unfounded NIMBY emotions stirred up by senators remains to be seen.