When fear trumps all

WHEN FEAR TRUMPS ALL…. Throughout the debate over transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay, we’ve seen an argument pitting fear against fact. One side would say, “We can’t have dangerous terrorist suspects on U.S. soil!” The other would point, “We already have many in U.S. prisons!” The first side would say, “The administration would have al Qaeda members living among us!” The latter would point out, “No one has ever even attempted an escape from a supermax facility!”

By every reasonable measure, the fear-based argument was baseless. Every claim, every contention, every accusation was swiftly and easily debunked. When it came to reality, conservative complaints couldn’t withstand any scrutiny at all.

But let this be a reminder: never underestimate the power of irrational fear, especially when Republicans are trying to smear Democrats as “soft” on terrorists.

The Obama administration has all but abandoned plans to allow Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release to live in the United States, administration officials said yesterday, a decision that reflects bipartisan congressional opposition to admitting such prisoners but complicates efforts to persuade European allies to accept them.

The LA Times had a similar report, noting, “The Obama administration has virtually abandoned plans to resettle in the United States some detainees from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials said, a recognition that the task had become politically impossible because of congressional opposition.”

The articles are a little thin on details, but it appears the White House simply couldn’t overcome irrational fears from members of Congress, who were very likely swayed by polls showing the vast majority of Americans buying into the Republicans’ demagoguery. The administration seems to have concluded it’s not worth investing the political capital in this fight.

The angle to keep an eye on moving forward is the reaction from our European allies. Many countries in Europe, most notably Italy and Germany, have expressed a willingness to “share the burden” when it comes to the Gitmo detainees. These allies, however, may be far less likely to lend the United States a hand if American officials expect every country except ours to take these detainees off our hands.