Back in May 2009, when Barack Obama was still a freshly minted president, he said that no prisoner had ever escaped from one of our Supermax prisons. There’s no definitive definition of what constitutes a “Supermax” prison but the federal government only has one that is located in any of the 50 states. It’s in Florence, Colorado, and it has some notoriously violent criminals living there in 23-hour solitary lockdown. You might recognize names like Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi Yousef, Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, and Terry Nichols. You might not recognize the names of gang leaders from the Aryan Brotherhood or the Gangster Disciples. These are all people who have proven their willingness to commit appalling acts of murder and violence. We keep them in this particular prison because we don’t want them to escape, and many of them have confederates on the outside who would be willing to try to free them if given half a chance. This prison has to protect from breaches on both the inside and the outside.
But President Obama was correct. Politifact found that the president’s statement was true. No one had ever escaped from the federal government’s domestic Supermax prison, and that statement remains true today.
Of course, the federal government does have another Supermax prison. It’s located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Unlike the prison in Colorado, it houses mostly people who have not been convicted of any crime. It houses many people who the government would prefer to release than to keep in custody. And it houses some of the most dangerous and guilty people on the planet, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 plane attacks.
Candidate Obama ran on a platform that included closing down Guantanamo Bay and he was elected. But the Republicans wanted to burden the president with the problem his predecessor had created, and they went to the American people and told them that moving the people at Gitmo to similarly secure prisons in America would be a grave threat to our lives. Why this would be was rarely articulated, and never convincingly so. The facility in Colorado already holds important al-Qaeda members, so why would adding some more substantially increase the risk to anyone?
Here’s a typical Republican response to the very idea of transferring prisoners here from Gitmo:
“Why is the White House even discussing this as we battle a brutal enemy that has beheaded two Americans,” Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “Bringing dangerous terrorists into the U.S. makes no sense and sends the wrong message to our enemies and allies.”
For five years now I have been trying to understand comments like this. I don’t know if Rep. Vern Buchanan believes what he is saying. I cannot even be certain that he knows what he intends his words to mean. Does he think leaving innocent people locked up in Gitmo makes sense? Does he think that our allies approve of the prison at Guantanamo Bay? Does he not recognize the propaganda value Gitmo has for radical Islamist recruiters? Does he care about that message?
In any case, the Republicans’ fear-mongering campaign worked and Congress has forbidden the president from spending any money to move prisoners from Gitmo to American prisons. When rumors started to spread that the administration might defy Congress in some way or another, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas decided to make it a campaign issue. He is, after all, locked in a very competitive reelection contest with Independent Greg Orman.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on Friday vowed to block all legislation in the Senate with a prolonged filibuster if President Obama tries to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.
A day after Tea Party hero Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) campaigned with him in Wichita, Roberts threatened to wage a marathon talk session similar to the one Cruz held last year to protest the implementation of ObamaCare.
“I stopped him once from trying to send a Gitmo terrorist to Leavenworth. I shall do it again, I shall do it again and if he tries it again I will shut down the Senate,” Roberts said, referring to the military prison located sixty miles east of his campaign headquarters in Topeka where he spoke to campaign volunteers.
By going around telling Kansans what he “shall” and “shall not” do, Sen. Roberts shows his age. He’s been in Congress since January 3rd, 1981.
“We’re going to bring 179 terrorists to the United States including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?” Roberts said, referring to the detainee accused of masterminding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Once you get control of the floor you just don’t leave it. Ted Cruz did that with regard to ObamaCare. If necessary, I’ll do it with terrorists,” he said.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who is traveling through the state this week on Roberts’s campaign bus, said he would join the filibuster. Roberts predicted he would have broad support from his colleagues.
“I will have help on this. I can see John McCain there and I can see Lindsey Graham there and I can see Kelly Ayotte there and I can see a whole bunch of other people there,” Roberts said.
Sen. Roberts does a good job of listing the most prominent members of the Senate Bedwetting Caucus, which is made up of the people most likely to urinate on themselves out of irrational fear.
The thing to remember about the Bedwetting Caucus is, however, that they aren’t necessarily genuinely scared. It’s just that their whole foreign policy agenda depends on the public being terrified in order to have any hope of getting public support.
Sen. Pat Roberts probably doesn’t care at all one way or the other where terrorist suspects are held. But he does think he will benefit politically if people are worried about them being held in America.
We only have 100 senators. They are supposed to be some of our most accomplished men and women. They are supposed to be natural leaders who emerge from each of our 50 states. Natural leaders don’t excel by instilling fear and cowardice in their people.
Will Pat Roberts succeed in using this gambit to beat his challenger?