The woman was sincere. And completely wrong.
She was among the dozens of protesters outside a Tuesday hearing about President Barack Obama’s plan to move Guantanamo detainees to a prison in Thomson, Ill. The woman, identified by the Associated Press as Amanda Norms, worried that if Guantanamo detainees were relocated to Thomson, “terrorists would want to hit us to make a point, in the Midwest, in the American heartland.”
Certainly terrorists always try to make a point. That’s why they struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – the financial and military symbols of the country. That’s why they tried to strike at the U.S. Capitol. And, by that logic, it’s not unthinkable that these craven thugs would use the presence of a prison that houses some of their alleged comrades as a pretext for launching an attack nearby.
But to suggest that keeping the prison out of Illinois would keep that part of the country safe is ignoring reality. And, in fact, there are strong arguments that shuttering Guantanamo and moving detainees to the United States may make us all safer.
The heartland is not immune to terrorism. Nor is anywhere else. That’s not meant to frighten. It’s simply true. Plots have been thwarted that either originated in or targeted landmarks in Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California, Georgia and, yes, Illinois. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was a student in Peoria when he was arrested in 2001 and identified as an al-Qaida operative who had met with Osama bin Laden and trained at one of his notorious camps. More recently, an Illinois man and would-be mujahid was apprehended after a failed attempt to blow up a federal building in the capital city of Springfield.
So keeping terrorism suspects out of Illinois wouldn’t eliminate the terrorist threat. But holding suspects in a U.S. facility and prosecuting them in federal courts or in the much-improved military commissions would give the United States a chance to start wiping out horrendous images of torture and abuse and to prove that all suspects – Muslim or otherwise – will be treated fairly. Terrorists would no longer be able to point to Gitmo as “proof” of America’s enmity toward all Muslims. And the power of one of their most successful recruiting tools would be eliminated.