Steve Chapman

A common theme among Republicans running for senator and governor is that the inmates shouldn't be moved anywhere, because there is no reason to close Guantanamo. Obama's decision, charges Senate candidate Patrick Hughes, is just keeping "a campaign promise to an antiwar, left-wing" faction of his party.

But it's not just Birkenstock-shod peaceniks who support the idea. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell has endorsed it. So has Gen. David Petraeus.

Last year, John McCain vowed to close Gitmo if he became president. There were other presidential candidates who disagreed. You know what? They lost.

The opponents see no risk in keeping Guantanamo open and no gain in getting rid of it. But plenty of military people think the status quo is about as satisfactory as a dead skunk in the living room.

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora told Congress that high-ranking officers "maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq -- as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat -- are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."

The Bush administration's purpose in putting the captives at the U.S. naval base in Cuba was to keep them beyond the reach of federal courts, so it could do whatever struck the fancy of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly asserted that Guantanamo cannot be a lawless zone. The executive branch has to follow the Constitution even there.

Moving the prisoners to American soil would affirm the startling proposition that we consider ourselves bound by the rule of law. It wouldn't make veteran terrorists give up the fight. But it would deprive them of an emblem of torture and abuse that inspires anti-American fury and endangers American lives.

When the detainees arrive here, I predict, Illinoisans will pay attention for about five minutes and then go on calmly with their lives. At least the grownups will.

Steve Chapman

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

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