Today's Washington Post has a front-page, top-of-the-fold article on "New Detainee Site in U.S. Considered," http://www.washingtonpost.com/.... But the misleading headline betrays the real troublesome part of the story: a U.S. facility for Guantanamo detainees that would contain courtrooms to hold federal criminal trials and military commissions, and provide indefinite preventive detention.
What's really at issue here is not just reinventing the wheel by saddling Kansas or Michigan with one more unnecessary jail--we have the Supermax in Florence, Colorado, where the worst of the worst are housed. The real issue is that this theoretical detention facility would ressurect the thrice-failed military commissions to prosecute terrorism suspects, and would be used to hold some prisoners in preventive indefinite detention. Guantanamo at Kansas.
I'm all in favor of closing Guantanamo and trying its detainees in federal civilian court, but legitimizing the kangaroo system at Guantanamo is wrong-headed.
As an initial matter, I have believed for years that 1) Guantanamo should be shut down, 2) that U.S. prisons are adequate to hold Gitmo detainees, and 3) that the federal criminal justice system provides all the tools necessary for effective and fair terrorism prosecution and for detention within well-developed, constitutional boundaries. I was thrilled that President Obama promised to shutter Guantanamo within a year, comply with the Geneva conventions and halt military commissions.
But national security courts are "Gitmo at Disney"--simply the legalization of the Bush administration's policy of preventive indefinite detention and kangaroo trials lacking full constitutional safeguards. What are "longterm holding cells"? They have sofas and cable? One cell block will hold convicted rapists and murders who had the full due process rights of criminal defendants, and another cell block will hold the 12-year-old who was accused (but never convicted) of throwing a grenade?
The proposed national security court(s) would oversee detainees whom the government claims cannot be released, sent to another country, or prosecuted in regular federal courts--elevating terrorism to a special class. Without ever being required to prove its case, the government will use these courts to short-circuit constitutional guarantees and permanently detain individuals it deems "dangerous."
Do people realize that the government can prosecute citizens and non-citizens in federal civilian courts under far-reaching laws that criminalize support for terrorism, wherever, whenever, and however it happened? They fear the trials will disclose important intelligence information? There are procedures in place for that: sealed court proceedings, in camera submissions, etc.
I know, I know: national security court proponents claim the government needs a new "tool" for those it "knows" are terrorists, but whose prosecutions have been tainted by government misconduct (read: torture and denial of any semblance of due process). But that's another problem. Terrorism suspects we too badly mistreated to try.