Friday, May 8, 2009

Gitmo detainees? Not in my back yard

One of Barack Obama's first official acts as president of the United States was to sign an executive order closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More than a hundred days have passed, though, and he has not submitted a full plan for doing so. Of course, the president has been fairly busy these last few months, trying to save the economy and attending meetings around the world. The biggest problem with shutting the doors on the prison, I feel, is the question of where to send all the detainees.

I think it's safe to say that not everyone being held at Gitmo, as Guantanamo Bay is sometimes called, is a terrorist or even a terrorist sympathizer. Some of them are, though. We've already released some detainees, under President Bush I might add, who have committed confirmed acts of terrorism since being released. These aren't people who became terrorists in prison, either. Some proved to be what you might call officers in the terror war. Personally, I feel we should start proceedings immediately, if we haven't already, to determine who is and who isn't an "enemy combatant" before we release another prisoner.

Still, Gitmo is closing. The president wants it closed, the people want it closed, it's going to close. So the question is, where do we keep all the detainees until their status is determined? I don't relish the idea of a potential terrorist in Norfolk, VA, which believe it or not is one of the places being discussed as a holding site, along with another site in my home state. Two sites in Virginia, no matter how secure they are, is frankly two too many for me. At least Gitmo was an island surrounded by Marines. If a terrorist escaped, then he still had nowhere to go. If a terrorist escapes into Norfolk, though, he won't be surrounded by Marines; he'll be surrounded by civilians.

I'm not unsympathetic to the innocents being held at Gitmo. They should have their freedom again. But they are not my primary concern. My primary concern is the ones who are actually a threat not just to my life but also the lives of even more innocents. That's why I support distinguishing who is and who isn't a terrorist, and doing it quickly. In the meantime, though, I don't want terrorists in my state, no matter how many guards are around them. From the number of states that have basically told the president the same thing, and the amount of time it's taking to actually close Guantanamo, I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, coincidentally from Virginia like myself, has introduced legislation in Congress that would require approval from the governor and legislature of a particular state before the president could relocate detainees to that state. The legislation, titled Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, includes several provisions:

Affirming Congress’ Opposition to the Release and Transfer of Terrorists. The bill affirms Congress’ opposition to transferring or releasing terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States. Most Americans do not support releasing these terrorists from Guantanamo Bay prison and transferring them into the United States. The bill gives Congress an opportunity to show that it stands with the American people on this critical matter, and opposes the release and transfer of these terrorists.

Governor & State Legislature Pre-Approval. The measure prohibits the Administration from transferring or releasing any terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay to any state without express approval from the state’s governor and legislature, and certifies to Congress that strict requirements have been met. For example, the Administration must certify to the respective governor and state legislature that the detainee does not pose a security risk to the United States. The certifications must be made 60 days before any transfer or release.

Presidential Certification Requirements. The measure prohibits the President from transferring or releasing a terrorist detainee into the United States unless he provides the following notification and certification to Congress regarding:

The name of the detainee and transfer/release location in the United States.
The release/transfer would not negatively impact continued prosecution of the detainee.
The release/transfer would not negatively impact continued detention of the detainee.
The ability of federal judges to release detainees into the United States.

I'll be writing to my representative, Congressman Glenn Nye, and both of my senators, Senators Warner and Webb, asking them to support this legislation. The president has many options at his disposal in dealing with suspected terrorists. The option that he shouldn't have is forcing any town, city, or state to house the suspects while he sorts it all out. He can ask us to; but we can certainly say no.

Update: Congressman Nye's reply

Dear Mr. Monteith,

Thank you for contacting me about the movement of Guantanamo Bay detainees to prisons located in the continental the United States. It is helpful to learn the views of my friends and neighbors in Tidewater, and I appreciate having your input.

Please know that I do not support the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to the Hampton Roads area. We lack the facilities to hold these presumed terrorists, and this would set a dangerous precedent for the movement of other combatants to our area.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Please feel free to call on me in the future if I may be of service to you or your family. If you would like more information about the issues I am working on in Congress, or if you would like to sign up to receive my monthly e-newsletter, I encourage you to visit my website at


Glenn Nye
Member of Congress

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