Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trials, Jails & NIMBY

As the trial starts today for Ahmed Ghailani the reaction is, once again, one of an irrational fear. The old NIMBY ("Not in my backyard") principle seems to be active here as President Obama plans to close Guantanamo Bay and move the trials and the prisoners to maximum security prisons within the United States. According to Radio Free Europe:
Obama has encountered stiff opposition to that plan from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who say that transferring terrorist suspects to U.S. soil poses a threat to public safety.

Last month, Obama addressed his critics and argued that the U.S. court system has proven it is capable of trying and convicting terrorists.

“Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and our juries, our citizens, are tough enough to convict terrorists," Obama said. "The record makes that clear. Ramsey Yusef tried to blow up the World Trade Center. He was convicted in our courts and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prisons.”
Do people really think these prisoners are going to suddenly be living in their neighborhood or working at the local gas station? Do they not realize the level of security that maximum security prisons have? According to Robert Gates:

"The truth is there's a lot of fear-mongering about this. We've never had an escape from a super-max prison. And that's where these guys will go, and if not one of the existing ones, we'll create a new one," he said.

The defense secretary also criticized plans by some members of Congress to try to prohibit the transfer of detainees in Guantanamo to the United States.

Let's see....no one, repeat, no one has ever escaped from these maximum security prisons. But, we can't have them nearer than Guantanamo Bay? Please. So, we can imprison other terrorists like Ramsey Yusef - or how about some really hard core murderers like Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer (who didn't last long), and Timothy McVeigh (an American terrorist)? But, we can't jail a terrorist from the Middle East? And we can't do it without torturing them? Or how about our latest terrorist, Scott Roeder, charged with murdering Dr. George Tiller in a church - who "said from his jail cell that similar attacks were planned around the nation for as long as abortion is legal."

That being said, leaving someone in prison for years without a trial isn't right either. Everyone, no matter who they are or what they did, has a right to a fair trial. And moving them out of a prison that is a huge dark spot on the United States (that's putting it lightly) is the right thing to do.

Besides, just because something is far away from the United States - and hidden to many people - does not mean that the activity there wasn't real, or blatantly wrong.

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