Dispatches from the Creation Wars

OMG, We’re Gonna Die!

That pretty much sums up the reaction from the loony right to Obama’s order to close the prison at Gitmo and end torture. Glenn Greenwald is doing an excellent job of debunking all the fear-mongering. I like this part especially:

The New York Times today prints a front-page article claiming that a detainee released from Guantanamo last year has now become “the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch” (it’s always amazing how bureaucratically structured Al Qaeda is alleged to be and how well we can discern the structure: “Deputy Leader, Yemen Branch”; do they have business cards and organizational charts?).

I’m beginning to think that the #2 man in Al Qaeda is a lot like the drummer in Spinal Tap. But the real demagoguery is about the notion of trying alleged terrorists in American courts and housing them in American prisons. Everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Republican legislators want you to think that this is going to lead to mass chaos:

But the real fear-mongering is focused on all of the attacks that American communities will suffer if we imprison dangerous Terrorists inside the U.S. rather than in Guantanamo. House Minority Leader John Boehner wants you to be frightened: “I think the first thing we have to remember is that we’re talking about terrorists here. Do we bring them into our borders?” GOP House Minority Whip Eric Cantor warned: “Actively moving terrorists inside our borders weakens our security. Most families neither want nor need hundreds of terrorists seeking to kill Americans in their communities.” The always frightened Wall St. Journal Editorial Page shrieks that any place that houses Al Qaeda Terrorists will become a “target” for attack:

The military base [at Ft. Leavenworth] is integrated into the community and, lacking Guantanamo’s isolation and defense capacities, would instantly become a potential terror target. Expect similar protests from other states that are involuntarily entered in this sweepstakes.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty spent all day yesterday fantasizing about all the scary things that could happen if we have Al-Qaeda Terrorists in our communities (near nuclear facilities and airports!). Former Bush aide and chief speechwriter Marc Thiessen warned yesterday in The Washington Post that if there is a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Americans will blame Obama because he stopped torturing and closed Guantanamo, and Democrats will be “unelectable for a generation.” Today, at National Review, Thiessen, citing yesterday’s Executive Orders, declared Obama “to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office.” And yesterday, of course, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt echoed the standard claim that our regular federal courts were inadequate to try dangerous Terrorists.

Greenwald points out what any well-informed person already knows, that we already have tried many terrorists in civilian courts, convicted them and housed them in civilian prisons without any problems at all.

Both before and after 9/11, the U.S. has repeatedly and successfully tried alleged high-level Al Qaeda operatives and other accused Islamic Terrorists in our normal federal courts — in fact, the record is far more successful than the series of debacles that has taken place in the military commissions system at Guantanamo. Moreover, those convicted Terrorists have been housed in U.S. prisons, inside the U.S., for years without a hint of a problem. Here is but a partial list of the accused Muslim Terrorists who have been successfully tried and convicted in U.S. civilians courts and who remain imprisoned inside the U.S.:

Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted, 1996, U.S. District Court (before then-U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey) — plotting terrorist attacks on the U.S. (currently: U.S. prison, Butler, North Carolina);

Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted, 2006, U.S. Federal Court — conspiracy to commit the 9/11 attacks (currently: U.S. prison, Florence, Colorado);

Richard Reid, convicted, 2003, U.S. Federal Court — attempting to blow up U.S.-bound jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean (currently: U.S. prison, Florence, Colorado);

Jose Padilla, convicted, 2007, U.S. Federal Court — conspiracy to commit terrorism (currently: U.S. prison, Florence, Colorado)..

That’s just a partial list. Both pre- and post-9/11, there are numerous other individuals who have been convicted in U.S. civilian courts of various acts relating to terrorism inspired by Islamic radicalism, including many alleged to be high-level Terrorists, who are now serving sentences inside the U.S., in U.S. prisons. Moreover, terrorists accused of being members of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups have been successfully tried in the regular courts of other countries — including Britain and Spain — and currently sit in those countries’ regular prisons, without a whiff of a problem.

If it were really the goal of Terrorists to attack American prisons where their members are incarcerated and if they were actually capable of doing that, they already have a long list of “targets” and have had such a list for two decades. If U.S. civilian courts were inadequate forums for obtaining convictions of Terrorism suspects, then the above-listed individuals would not be imprisoned — most of them for life — while the Guantanamo military commission system still has nothing to show for it other than a series of humiliating setbacks for the Government. As is true for virtually every fear-mongering claim made over the last eight years to frighten Americans into believing that they must vest the Government with vast and un-American powers lest they be slaughtered by the Terrorists, none of these claims is remotely rational and all of them are empirically disproven.

He is absolutely right. These demagogues have adopted a modified version of FDR’s famous statement: “We have nothing to sell but fear itself.”