Steve Chapman
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Here's the Obama administration's plan for emptying out Guantanamo, as I understand it: Take each prisoner out of his cell. Give him a personal apology, a big kiss and an AK-47. Then hand him a free airline ticket good for any destination in the continental United States.

Maybe I've got one or two details wrong, but I'm having trouble thinking clearly right now. That's because I've been listening to politicians who have responded to the news of Gitmo's pending closure with disconcerting shrieks of panic.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was beside himself upon hearing Defense Secretary Robert Gates tell a Senate committee that the Pentagon might need to transfer 100 inmates to American soil. "The administration," announced McConnell, "needs to tell the American people how it will keep the terrorists at Guantanamo out of our neighborhoods and off of the battlefield."

How on earth could that be done? Hmmm. Maybe by locking them up in grim buildings replete with iron bars and concertina wire. Same way, in other words, it kept accused terrorists Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri out of our neighborhoods and off the battlefield.

They were confined in a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. That city has had the occasional murder, but none of them was committed by agents of Osama bin Laden. I'm willing to wager a week's salary that if some Gitmo alumni end up there, they will have zero effect on the crime rate.

But none of this is going to keep Republicans from opposing the relocation of the prisoners to the United States. They are advised that the issue will help them with voters, who don't want to have to worry about cutting off Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in traffic.

"This issue is at the intersection of good policy and good politics," Republican pollster Glen Bolger explained to Politico. "All in favor of having Gitmo terrorists housed in your congressional district, raise your hand. Whoa -- no hands go up!"

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., in the party's weekly radio address Saturday, raised the possibility the detainees might be coming to "a halfway house in Missouri." To head off such threats, Republicans have introduced "The Keep Terrorists Out of America Act" -- which would forbid the president from moving the inmates to any state without first getting approval from the governor and the legislature.

It seems like only yesterday conservatives were intent on upholding the powers of the commander-in-chief against encroachment by 535 armchair generals. I'm trying to imagine the reaction if, after the 9/11 attack, Democrats had proposed legislation requiring the president to get a state's consent to send its National Guard troops to Iraq.

But some people can't be bothered with consistency when the stakes are so high. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is apoplectic at the possibility some of the captives might be migrating to Ft. Leavenworth, in his state. This option, he lamented, would mean locals would have to "share their community … with terrorists."

Not only that, he said, but it would make their town a target for terrorists the world over. "Moving such a facility to hometown, USA will require security beyond reality," said Roberts.

From listening to Roberts, you might think he's going to be running into them at Home Depot. I don't have inside information, but I'm guessing the inmates would be bunking not at the Super 8 but at the maximum-security prison located at Ft. Leavenworth.

As for his worries about attracting terrorists, here is the interesting thing about Ft. Leavenworth: It's a U.S. Army base. With some effort, I can imagine a squad of al-Qaida operatives being able to enter the country, obtain weaponry and seize a vulnerable detention facility. But attack a military installation crawling with soldiers in hopes of springing their buddies? I suspect that would play out like the ending of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Terrorists coming soon to my neighborhood? Thanks for the warning. I'll pass it on to Ted Kaczynski when I see him at the gym.

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Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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