President Obama is pleased with himself for his diplomatic opening to Cuba. The rest of us wouldn’t be pleased with what he wants to close. The president’s long-standing goal of shuttering the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay appears to be advancing apace. This was one of Cuban President Raul Castro’s demands for the “normalization” of relations with the United States, and he doesn’t need to twist Mr. Obama’s arm. Closing the prison at Gitmo, however, raises the large problem of where to put the prisoners. Nobody wants them in his backyard.
Secretary of State John Kerry supervised the pomp and circumstance of raising the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana this month, ending a half-century of U.S. isolation of the Caribbean isle of oppression. With the precise timing of a Swiss watch, the Obama Defense Department signaled that same day that it has identified several locations for a domestic Gitmo to hold the remaining prisoners from the war in Iraq. High on the list are the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C. The Pentagon sent a team to survey Fort Leavenworth’s Disciplinary Barracks last week and expects to send a team to Charleston before the end of the month.
Good fences make good neighbors, as Robert Frost reminded us, but there’s no fence high enough to calm the fear and loathing of Americans at the prospect of sharing their neighborhood with the Islamic terrorists captured on the battlefield. “These detainees are the worst of the worst, including planners of the September 11th attacks and the attack on the USS Cole,” says Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican. “They should stay right where they are — in cells at the prison on Guantanamo Bay.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, expressed equal opposition to hosting the bad guys in Kansas, in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter: “I will continue to be a vocal and staunch advocate against closing our current detainment facilities due to the high security risks and economic waste doing so would cost the American public.”
Mr. Obama has been gradually cutting the number of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, some would say by hook or by crook. He provoked a furious outcry a year ago when he traded five notorious Taliban leaders for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was being held in Afghanistan following his desertion to the enemy. There are now 116 prisoners at Gitmo and 52 of those have been cleared for return to the Middle East. No more are coming. The president prefers to kill them on the battlefield with drones. There’s less mess and bother that way.
Bringing the remaining detainees to America runs considerable risk, of public fury if not of actual security. Lawyers for the evildoers are agitating for the release of one Tariq Ba Odah, an inmate on a hunger strike and in declining health. The closer they are to American television cameras, the greater the hubbub the prisoners can generate. Americans have said no to closing Guantanamo, backed by a 2012 majority vote in the U.S. Senate, to prevent the detainees from being transferred to the United States.
There are no easy answers to the question of what to do with implacable Islamic terrorists. But answering the question of whether to bring them to America is easy: Not on your life.