Sharing a burden

SHARING A BURDEN…. Appearing on Fox News over the weekend, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, made a comment about where Gitmo detainees can and should go.

“I think they need to be kept elsewhere, wherever that is. I don’t want to see them come on American soil.”

Now, we already know the various problems with Nelson’s assumptions (there are already terrorists in U.S. maximum-security facilities, for example). But I was struck by the notion that detainees should be locked up outside the country, “wherever that is.” Nelson doesn’t have any idea; he just knows where the detainees shouldn’t go (i.e., here).

Some U.S. allies may be willing to give us a hand. Just yesterday, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told CNN that Italy is prepared to help by accepting an unspecified number of Gitmo detainees. “If we can do this favor for the American people and the U.S. government, we will certainly do it,” he said.

That’s no doubt welcome news to the administration, but our allies’ generosity is not without limits.

Diplomatic sources said [last week] that any ban on resettling detainees in the United States would probably undermine the State Department’s efforts to get European countries to accept those cleared for release. European officials have told their American counterparts that they are unwilling to assume a burden that the United States will not share.

And that’s hardly an unreasonable position to take. Lawmakers like Nelson seem to think U.S. officials can go to our allies and say, “These guys are just too dangerous for us. Do you mind taking them off our hands? Let’s make a deal. We’ll take zero. How many will you take?”

We may be able to receive some assistance from international allies, but if Congress insists that no U.S. detainee step foot on American soil, our outreach efforts will fail.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.