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No Escape: Liotta Blogger Call

6:52 PM, Jun 26, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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There are a lot of rumors flying around about the fate of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Last week the AP reported that the Bush administration was "nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility and move its terror suspects to military prisons elsewhere."

Since then, the administration has denied that any such decision is in the offing, but international pressure and a Democratic Congress are threatening to force a decision on the status of some 400 enemy combatants being held there.

It would seem that the most important question, though, is whether the facility at Guantanamo offers some advantage that would justify its decidedly negative effect on America's image abroad (after looking over poll data, I would offer that most Americans are satisfied with the status quo on this issue), and the answer, according to Alan Liotta, principle director for the Pentagon's Office of Detainee Affairs, is 'yes'. Liotta spoke to a few bloggers on a conference call this morning arranged by the office of the secretary of defense.

The WWS asked why the administration can't just close Guantanamo and move these guys somewhere else, to which Liotta responded:

If we were to bring them to the United States, we would have to put them in one of two places, either a U.S. military prison, like Leavenworth or Charleston, or in a U.S. federal penitentiary....sure we house very dangerous criminals and top mafia people, cartel leaders, and gang leaders in our penitentiary system, but we know for a fact that al Qaeda would like nothing more than to break some of their brethren out of a facility where they're being held by the United States or our allies in Iraq for that matter...we know that Guantanamo and its isolation is a huge deterrent against them being able to do that and being able to attack there. Put that facility in the middle of an American community, in Kansas or Charleston, South Carolina, and you're going to have a huge burden put upon on that local community in terms of what first responders are going to have to be geared up for and where your security is.

Of course, I wouldn't want the federal government to put the worst of the worst from the war on terror in my backyard. And Liotta says there's been "no real look" at where these prisoners might be housed if they were relocated to the U.S. Liotta used Alcatraz as an example of a U.S. prison that, while extremely isolated, could be easily observed by al Qaeda from the surrounding hills. But surely the military could construct a base in the middle of Alaska, for example, that would present al Qaeda with a similar challenge in terms of overcoming geography. To be blunt, I don't find this to be a terribly compelling argument for keeping Gitmo open--though neither is it unreasonable.

But Liotta didn't stop there. He also pointed out that detainees that are brought to the United States,

could have the full panoply of U.S. constitutional protections, which means you'd have to have a judicial hearing on them in a certain amount of time, if you couldn't have that judicial hearing in a certain amount of time, they could be released. And when they went to be released, as it is we can't return many of these people to their home countries as it is, either because the home country won't take them back or because in some instances the home country is such a place that we know they'll get tortured if they go back. So under international treaties and obligations we can't return them, so the result would be they'd be left free here in the United States....that is, from what the lawyers are telling us, a very real possibility.

Robert Bluey asked if it really matters where we put these prisoners--whether "the detention operation would be conducted in a significantly different manner in a different location." Liotta said that wherever the prisoners were held, they would be held under the same basic framework: