‘Terrorists in the neighborhood’

‘TERRORISTS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD’…. For Democratic lawmakers who might be worried about the Republican demagoguery on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, I’d encourage them to take a look at Steve Chapman’s column on the subject today.

Here’s the Obama administration’s plan for emptying out Guantanamo, as I understand it: Take each prisoner out of his cell. Give him a personal apology, a big kiss and an AK-47. Then hand him a free airline ticket good for any destination in the continental United States.

Maybe I’ve got one or two details wrong, but I’m having trouble thinking clearly. That’s because I’ve been listening to politicians who have responded to the news of Gitmo’s pending closure with disconcerting shrieks of panic.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was beside himself upon hearing Defense Secretary Robert Gates tell a Senate committee that the Pentagon might need to transfer 100 inmates to American soil. “The administration,” announced McConnell, “needs to tell the American people how it will keep the terrorists at Guantanamo out of our neighborhoods and off of the battlefield.”

How on earth could that be done? Hmmm. Maybe by locking them up in grim buildings replete with iron bars and concertina wire. Same way, in other words, it kept accused terrorists Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri out of our neighborhoods and off the battlefield.

Of course, lawmakers probably know this. Democrats no doubt realize that there are already terrorists in detention on U.S. soil, and that these attacks — and the truly nonsensical “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act” — are as shameless as they are ridiculous.

Republicans, one hopes, know it, too, but are counting on Americans not knowing the difference. “This issue is at the intersection of good policy and good politics,” Republican pollster Glen Bolger recently argued. “All in favor of having Gitmo terrorists housed in your congressional district, raise your hand. Whoa — no hands go up!”

Except, it has nothing to do with “good policy,” which Bolger probably realizes (I find it hard to imagine he’s foolish enough to believe his own talking points). It’s “good policy” to close the detention facility that’s become an international disgrace. It’s “good policy” to take away a terrorist recruiting tool. It’s “good policy” to lock up dangerous people in supermax facilities where they won’t be able to hurt anyone. We know it’s “good policy” because we’re already doing that effectively.

Chapman added the interesting partisan twist on who’s responsible for shaping U.S. national security policies.

It seems like only yesterday conservatives were intent on upholding the powers of the commander in chief against encroachment by 535 armchair generals. I’m trying to imagine the reaction if, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Democrats had proposed legislation requiring the president to get a state’s consent to send its National Guard troops to Iraq.

Republicans believed, up until fairly recently, that the Commander in Chief has an obligation to shape national security policy, and any efforts to interfere with those responsibilities are an outrage that puts American lives at risk.

Unless the Commander in Chief is a Democrat, at which point these deeply held principles no longer apply.