Please Focus on Policy, Not on Fear

Opponents of President Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay have recently seized on the tactic of asking “do you want these terrorists in your neighborhood?” and thus playing on people’s fears. This is purely a rhetorical feint, and it’s offensive. The president isn’t planning on installing the Gitmo inmates in your local condo complex, and his opponents know that. The inmates will go into military brigs or maximum security prisons: the same places that currently house murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Are Obama’s opponents saying that these prisons aren’t secure? If so, shouldn’t they focus on fixing the prisons, so that rapists aren’t wandering your neighborhoods?

The fact is that the opponents of closing Gitmo know perfectly well that moving the inmates to a US supermax facility is perfectly safe. They just disagree with closing the island prison on policy grounds. And that’s fine. There are reasons – cost, isolation from US courts, desire to maintain military control – for wanting to keep Gitmo open. But let’s discuss those actual reasons, instead of using fear mongering and mistruths to get people scared and worked up.

Speaking of mistruths, on the same day that Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that he has long wanted to close Gitmo because it “has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us,” Republican Senator John Kyl, who is a major league douchebag, claimed that “it’s palpably false to suggest that the existence of Gitmo created terrorists.” Who is a more reputable source – the career soldier or the sleazy politician?

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece in Salon describing how this is an ongoing pattern: Republicans use specious arguments to make voters afraid, and Democrats feel a need to act tough instead of pointing out the ridiculousness of the Republican arguments. The NY Times recently ran a piece showing how the Republicans were planning even before Obama’s inauguration to use this strategy. To me, this demonstrates that the strategy is purely political, with no basis in fact or policy.


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