Fresh Meat

I’m afraid that Jim Geraghty comes off best in this exchange, taking Andrew Sullivan’s eager young things to task for endorsing Obama’s plan to shut down Gitmo. Despite agreeing with Patrick Appel and Chris Bodenner on the merits of the issue, I think their argumentative approach is pretty unpersuasive. If moved to Leavenworth or South Carolina or wherever else, it stands to reason that a few detainee combatants (some of whom are quite dangerous) may escape. This is probably less of a danger than with domestic prisoners – I imagine cultural differences make it difficult for foreign escapees to go to ground – but it’s something worth considering nonetheless.

I know I sound like a broken record, but the way to win these debates is not to deny the real security risks associated with policies that respect the essential dignity of enemy combatants, recognize Americans’ right to not be eavesdropped on by the federal government, or emphasize the importance of certain minimal standards of humane treatment. In much the same way that Geraghty’s colleagues would probably dismiss the pragmatic case for legalizing abortion as less important than the moral implications of murdering innocent fetuses, advocates of humane detainee treatment ought to be able to explain why the moral and judicial rationales for shutting down the legal black hole that is Guantanamo Bay outweigh our opponents’ real (if frequently overblown) practical objections.

UPDATE: I take it all back – the awesome “Con Air” reference wins the day for Team Sullivan.

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6 Comments

Filed under Terrorism, The Courts

6 responses to “Fresh Meat

  1. It’s something worth considering, but not for very long. I really think Geraghty is making a pretty silly argument. I mean, if we have reached a point where a small band of men, who not only have to deal with the traditional hardships associated with escaping from prison (being hunted, having little or no food, money, or clothing) but who also can’t speak the language well, look like (ahem) terrorists, and don’t know the lay of the land—if we have reached a point where they are a major danger to a nearby nuclear power plant, we’re in big trouble. Because you know what would be exponentially more dangerous? People who are not in prison doing something to the nuclear power plant.

    I mean, I just think it’s very hard to argue that moving a few hundred people into maximum-security prisons on American soil increases our vulnerability to terrorism in any substantial way.

    • Josh –

      Like you, I doubt any escaped detainee will ever pull off something comparable to September 11th, but the risk of a few unpleasant characters escaping and wreaking havoc in local communities is something worth considering. I think the moral imperative of closing Gitmo outweighs these concerns, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely invalid.

  2. Oh, no—they’re totally not invalid. Like I said, I just don’t think they’re worth considering for very long. I think Patrick A. is right when he says, “Geraghty instead seems to think that Guantanamo detainees have superhuman abilities.” We house many, many unpleasant characters in these prisons anyway, and the chances of one of them successfully escaping and wreaking havoc are much greater, given that they don’t have all the obstacles of operating within a foreign culture to overcome. But Geraghty, as best I can tell, is not calling for all of these prisoners to be removed to islands in the Caribbean because of the threat they pose.

    Anyway, obviously we should do it smartly and carefully, and there are political steps that are essential to take before these prisoners get moved to domestic prisons. But I don’t see the logic behind an argument that it’s too dangerous to move them. That’s all.

  3. I think we’re basically in agreement. Appel and Bodenner seem fixated on proving that there is no danger in placing detainees in US prisons. I think it’s an argument we’re bound to lose, and should therefore give way to other, more persuasive points.

  4. Patrick Appel

    The question isn’t whether there is no possibility that detainees would escape from a US prison. Anything is possible. But detainees could also, theoretically, escape from Gitmo.

    The question is whether they can be as secured in American prisons as Gitmo. Take a look at the supermax prison in Colorado or other supermax prisons around the US. Prisoners in SHU’s often spend 23 hours a day locked in cells and are shackled before they are taken out. Gitmo detainees would be at least as secure in an American supermax prisons. And the supermax in Colorado has never had an escape or serious escape attempt. In fact, I’ve never heard of a prisoner escaping from a supermax facility. Besides, Gitmo detainees were not taken to Gitmo for security reasons but for legal reasons, to keep them outside of the American legal system. The whole argument is a distraction.

  5. Patrick Appel

    The question isn’t whether there is no possibility that detainees would escape from a US prison. Anything is possible. But detainees could also, theoretically, escape from Gitmo.

    The question is whether they can be as secured in American prisons as Gitmo. Take a look at the supermax prison in Colorado or other supermax prisons around the US. Prisoners in SHU’s often spend 23 hours a day locked in cells and are shackled before they are taken out. Gitmo detainees would be at least as secure in an American supermax prisons. And the supermax in Colorado has never had an escape or serious escape attempt. In fact, I’ve never heard of a prisoner escaping from a supermax facility. Besides, Gitmo detainees were not taken to Gitmo for security reasons but for legal reasons, to keep them outside of the American legal system. The whole argument is a distraction

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