Questions abound on Gitmo transfers

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday he has chosen the Thomson Correctional Center in the northwest Illinois district I represent as the new home for al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since I learned of this proposal in November, I have spent several weeks trying to get answers to basic questions about security, infrastructure and the long-term economic impacts of this decision. Unfortunately, most of these questions remained unanswered.

I received an in-depth briefing in mid-November from the top architect of the plan, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy Phillip Carter.

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He agreed there would be an increased security risk to northwest Illinois, but he had no way of estimating the extent. How can you manage a threat you have no way of measuring? Unfortunately, Mr. Carter resigned abruptly from the Defense Department 10 days after my briefing.  

I never believed these terrorists could escape from Thomson. My primary concern has always been for the safety of the people of the region should the international hatred directed at Gitmo be escalated or transferred to northwest Illinois. 

This is far from an empty fear.  In fact, The Washington Post recently published an investigative story that quoted Yemeni Arif Rahim, whose brother Uthman Abdul Rahim has been detained at Gitmo for nearly eight years for his ties to two of the USS Cole attackers. According to that article, “Arif said he was confident that Obama would close Guantanamo next year. If he doesn’t, or if Uthman and other detainees are sent to a prison in the United States, many families would consider it an even greater betrayal, he said. ‘The families, their friends, their tribesmen will have more hatred for the United States,’ Arif said. ‘And perhaps they will consider taking the same path as the extremists.’”

Additionally, I have broader concerns about the U.S. legal system and its ability to deal with this admittedly gray area.

These terrorists will likely obtain new constitutional rights once they set foot on American soil, and they will certainly be much more accessible than they were in Cuba. 

I am not alone in these concerns. Opposition is bipartisan. Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have spoken out against moving these terrorists into the United States. Several of my House colleagues — including Reps. Melissa Bean and Debbie Halvorson, both Democrats from Illinois — have also expressed their concern. In fact, I share many of the concerns raised by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius while she was the Democratic governor of Kansas. She wrote a letter to President Obama on Jan. 28 opposing the proposal to house Gitmo terrorists at Fort Leavenworth in her state because it would create a magnet for terrorist activity.

Congress has spoken collectively on this issue, as well. Both the House and Senate have voted this year to bar transferring these terrorists into the United States. The Supplemental Appropriations Act 2009 (H.R. 2346) explicitly prohibits using the bill’s funds to release any Gitmo terrorists in the United States. In May, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a supplemental appropriations bill (S. 1054) that contained funding to close Guantanamo Bay, but barred funding to relocate detainees in the United States. And in October, the House passed a “motion to instruct” offered by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) on the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act 2010 (H.R. 2892) to prohibit transferring terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.

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As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, I have received numerous briefings on the terrorism threats facing our country. I have read about domestic plots and I know that there are people out there — people in prisons and people in far-flung places like Afghanistan and people right here in America, like Egyptian Ahmed Mohamed who was arrested in 2007 with explosive materials and a destructive device just seven miles from the Charleston Naval Brig where one al Qaeda suspect was temporarily imprisoned — that are active threats to our national security. 

I oppose adding “Gitmo North” to the terrorists’ recruiting rhetoric. This is not fear mongering. 

It is simply a matter of public safety and national security. 

Manzullo is serving his 9th term in the 16th district of Illinois.