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One Step Closer To Closing Gitmo

07/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday, Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was transferred from the military base in Cuba to Federal District Court in Manhattan, where he will stand trial "on charges that he participated in a conspiracy that included the bombings in 1998 of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." Discussing his case last month, President Obama hit back at critics who are trying to block the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil. "Preventing this detainee from coming to our shores would prevent his trial and conviction," Obama said. "And after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do." Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, "The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case." Ghailani's transfer and trial is not only a reminder of the power of the rule of law and the American judicial system; it is also a crucial step toward the ultimate shuttering of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility.

Right-Wing Fearmongering: "Some members of Congress are using the same scare tactics of our terrorist enemies and have tried to frighten the American people" about transferring Guantanamo detainees to maximum security prisons in the U.S., writes Center for American Progress's Ken Gude. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) declared Ghailani's transfer "the first step in the Democrats' plan to import terrorists into America." "This is not the kind of individual that ought to be exposed to our court system," Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) said. In a hearing on detention yesterday, the right wing's favorite lawyer, David Rivkin, warned that because of Obama's actions to close Guantanamo, there will soon be "hundreds of terrorists walking around this country." Critics have repeatedly argued that the American criminal justice system is not up to the task of holding and trying terrorist suspects. "I think they need to be kept elsewhere, wherever that is. I don't want to see them come on American soil," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) said recently. Gude writes that President Obama "can use the trial as an example to reassure Americans that the U.S. justice system is well equipped to prosecute suspected terrorists, and U.S. maximum security prisons are capable of keeping Americans safe." As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) noted, "There has never been a single escape" from a maximum security prison in the U.S.

'No Judicial Precedents'?: Responding to Ghailani's transfer yesterday on MSNBC, House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) asked provocatively, "Why in the world would somebody be so focused on the rights of a terrorist instead of keeping Americans safe?" He insisted, "We have no judicial precedents for the conviction of someone like this." In fact, more than 200 international terrorists have been convicted in U.S. courts and reside in U.S. prisons, including the "Blind Sheikh," Jose Padilla, and Zacarias Moussaoui. What's more, four other suspects involved in the exact same embassy bombings as Ghailani were tried -- and convicted -- in 2001, in the exact same district court. The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen wondered, "It's safe to assume Eric Cantor will want to apologize for his demonstrably ridiculous claims to a national television audience, right?"

Closer To Goal of Shutting Gitmo: "Ghailani's transfer marks the first demonstration of the Obama administration's commitment to closing Guantanamo and putting U.S. detention policy back on firm legal footing," notes Gude. Indeed, Ghailani has become "a test case for President Barack Obama's plans to close the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects." Meanwhile, the "Obama administration has been negotiating actively with European and other governments to resettle 50 detainees, who it says are cleared for transfer." So far, Obama has moved largely along the lines Gude recommended in a Center for American Progress report on how to close Guantanamo released last year. Gude recommended at first transferring a few detainees for trial, to be followed by more after U.S. courts "demonstrate their effectiveness and legitimacy" in those first trials. Ghailani's transfer thus moves America much closer to the ultimate goal of closing down a facility that, as Obama said, "rather than keep us safer," "has weakened American national security."

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Ian Millhiser

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