The Save Gitmo Movement

| Tue Aug. 30, 2005 1:10 PM EDT

In the National Review, Deroy Murdock doesn't want the Guantanamo prisoners transferred abroad. These "al-Qaeda assassin[s]," after all, could escape from prison in Yemen. No word, of course, on whether the prisoners in Guantanamo are actually as dangerous as he says they are. As far as we know, the truly nefarious prisoners in U.S. custody—including operations planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and recruiter Abu Zubaydah—are off in some undisclosed location around the world. Those left in Cuba, as one counterterrorism official told the New Republic's Spencer Ackerman, are "the ash-and-trash jihadi picked up in Afghanistan," and not the "honest-to-God, cardcarrying members of Al Qaeda--operatives who are worth a shit."

But no! Says Murdock! You don't understand! Army general and Southern Command chief Brantz Craddock recently told us, "We have and we are today still getting information that is relevant, that is actionable, and is supporting our service members in the field in the global war on terrorism." This might be true. On the other hand, it might not. Most of those prisoners have been lounging around in Cuba for three years. How much could they really know? As one official told Ackerman, they can still provide a decent amount of background knowledge—how al-Qaeda works, how people interact, which ethnic groups work with which ethnic groups—but after a time, this too becomes obsolete, as the face of al-Qaeda has changed and the center of the organization's gravity moves toward Iraq. Well, says Murdock, picture this little smoking gun scenario:

Imagine that the FBI caught a terrorist in March 2006 named Mustafa al-Fissi carrying detailed diagrams of the San Onofre, California, and Seabrook, New Hampshire, atomic energy plants. Today, no Gitmo interrogator could ask detainees about the still-undetected al-Fissi. Next March, however, one or more Gitmoites might be persuaded to sing about al-Fissi, his contacts, his bankers, etc. Sending these intelligence sources beyond U.S. control will, at best, delay our ability to connect these dots. If our foreign friends limit access to transferred Guantanameros, FBI agents might stare at al-Fissi without knowing what some of his terrorist brethren know about him.

Okay, that's scary, but really, what kind of argument is this? We can't keep people locked up forever because someday they might—might—know some dude who knows another dude who's related to a terrorist picked up in San Onofre. On the other hand, Murdock has one point right: the detainees will be much better off in Guantanamo than baking in some hellhole prison in Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But that's not an excuse to maintain an extralegal prison that undermines the rule of law and hampers law-enforcement efforts, it's an argument for sorting this stuff out.