Already in their backyards

ALREADY IN THEIR BACKYARDS…. As part of the debate surrounding the transfer of Gitmo detainees to U.S. facilities, I’ve always believed there’s one fact that effectively ends the argument: we are already house terrorists in high-security prisons on U.S. soil. Referencing recent Republican talking points, we’ve managed to somehow do just fine despite all of these terrorists living in our “neighborhoods,” coming to our “communities,” and “living among us.”

But let’s quantify matters a bit. We know some notorious terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, Richard Reid, and Zacarias Moussaoui are already locked up in the United States, but those are just a few individuals. There are 240 suspected bad guys at Guantanamo Bay. How many terrorists are in the backyards of the Not In My Backyard crowd?

Fred Kaplan reports, quite a few.

According to data provided by Traci L. Billingsley, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, federal facilities on American soil currently house 216 international terrorists and 139 domestic terrorists. Some of these miscreants have been locked up here since the early 1990s. None of them has escaped. At the most secure prisons, nobody has ever escaped, period.

As recited in Congress and on cable-news talk shows, the fears of moving Gitmo prisoners here seem to be these: that the terrorist prisoners might escape (statistics to the contrary be damned), that they might convert their fellow inmates with jihadist propaganda, that other members of al-Qaida might infiltrate the surrounding communities (to do what — spring them?), or that their presence might sow panic in those communities.

Maybe these people don’t understand what life is like in these “supermax” prisons. Take ADX Florence, the supermax in Colorado — “the Alcatraz of the Rockies” — that serves as the home to Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheikh” who organized the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the Sept. 11 plotters; Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber; Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber”; and Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City bombing, to name a few.

These are all truly dangerous people, but it’s not as if they run into one another in the lunch line or the yard. There is no lunch line; there is no yard. Most of the prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. For one hour, they’re taken to another concrete room, indoors, to exercise, by themselves. Their only windows face the sky, so they have no way of knowing even where they are within the prison. Phone calls to the outside world are banned. Finally, the prison is crammed with cameras and motion detectors. Compartments are separated by 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors; the place is surrounded by 12-foot-high razor-wire fences; the area between the wire and the walls is further secured by laser beams and attack dogs.

ADX Florence is an impressive facility, but it’s not one of a kind — the federal Bureau of Prisons operates similar prisons, full of similar bad guys, elsewhere. This has been the status quo for many years — it hasn’t undermined our security, no one has escaped, the daily lives of the Americans in those “neighborhoods” have remained unaffected, and no politicians have felt the need to grandstand on the issue.

That Republicans consider this argument the key to their comeback strategy is rather sad.