The Obama administration went 1-for-2 in decisions concerning terrorist suspects recently as it announced Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried in a civilian court just blocks from Ground Zero in New York and Guantanamo Bay detainees may be moved to Thomson Correctional Center north of the Quad Cities.
I understand the symbolism of Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 masterminds being tried near the biggest reminder of al-Qaida’s hatred of America. But I strongly disagree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to treat terrorist suspects like common criminals when they clearly should face wartime justice in a military tribunal.
That point aside, the trial will become such a huge spectacle it will make the O.J. Simpson trial look like it was ignored by the media. Perhaps this is what Holder hopes to achieve – loudly announce to the world that America is putting the terrorist suspects on trial to face justice rather than just let them rot in a holding cell somewhere or just execute them without finding them guilty first.
Again, I understand the sentiment, but I disagree with the decision. Putting Mohammed and his co-conspirators on trial in a criminal court sets a bad precedent for future terrorism-related cases, and the location puts the Ground Zero area at an unnecessary risk for another attack. (Though my gut tells me the terrorists won’t want to silence Mohammed during the trial because he can spew his anti-American propaganda publicly throughout what will be a heavily covered event – perhaps even televised.)
On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with Guantanamo Bay detainees being transferred to a maximum-security prison in northwestern Illinois. Unfortunately, this subject has become a partisan political issue clearly divided along Democrat and Republican lines.
If you’re a Democratic politician in Illinois, you support the idea because you support Obama. (Unless you are state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is running for President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat and still hasn’t announced a position regarding the Thomson issue.)
If you’re a Republican politician in Illinois, you are against the idea of bringing terrorist suspects to Thomson, because you are against anything the Obama administration proposes. (Which is ironic since the whole reason the mostly vacant Thomson Correctional Center is available for consideration is because state Sen. Dan Rutherford (R-Pontiac) helped lead a successful campaign to keep Pontiac Correctional Center open by convincing the governor to stop transfer of prisoners from Pontiac to Thomson.)
Will the transfer of terrorist suspects from Guantanamo Bay to Illinois put our state at an increased risk for a terrorist attack? I’m not convinced it does. Frankly, if terrorists are going to attack Illinois, it’s probably going to happen somewhere in Chicago where they can make a bigger impact than a simple prison break.
As for any terrorist suspects escaping into the neighborhoods of northern Illinois, I find that an unlikely premise, too. No one has ever escaped from a maximum-security prison, and methinks a holding cell for suspected terrorists would have even more security than your run-of-the-mill, maximum-security prison.
Perhaps most importantly during this recession, the transfer of prisoners to Thomson will finally bring jobs there that were promised years ago. Remember, it is the loss of jobs that Pontiac feared when its correctional center was slated for closure. Shouldn’t we want the opposite for Thomson, especially if it doesn’t involve a slew of job losses elsewhere?
A version of this column was published in the Nov. 19 edition of Ottawa Delivered.