The first terror detainee from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba arrived in New York City yesterday to stand trial. Many from both parties don't want him or any other detainee here. The transfer is said by some to be a key test for President Obama's plan to have the prison camp closed within a year of taking office.
Cully Stimson is a former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Detainee Affairs. He’s been to Gitmo several times. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.
John Roberts: This is being talked about by some people as a big test case for closing Guantanamo. Do you see it that way?
Cully Stimson: I don't, John. It's a unique case. Remember, he was indicted for his alleged involvement in the '98 East Africa bombings. His four co-conspirators have already been tried and convicted. So this is unique. This is not, as some are suggesting, a huge test case beginning a trend of removing detainees from Guantanamo to the United States. So I just see it as a one-off.
Roberts: So what is the significance of this case?
Stimson: It’s significant in the sense that it’s finishing up unfinished business from the '98 bombings. And so once you eliminate or move one detainee from Guantanamo somewhere else, that is one less person you have to deal with at Guantanamo. But it's finishing up unfinished business. Obviously he’s presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But this is a strong case.
Roberts: Republicans came out yesterday heavily criticizing this move, saying it's the Obama administration importing terrorists to American soil. Is it?
Stimson: Well, it is importing a person who is one of five people involved in the '98 bombings, so they’re right. And I don't think this allays any concerns that the Democrats and Republicans had expressed a few weeks ago that they would precipitously close Guantanamo before a plan is in place. But again, I think this is a completely unique situation. People should take a deep breath. I understand the politics as you do, John. But this is a unique situation.
Roberts: As you said, this is somebody who was wanted for the 1998 bombings of the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. It’s not a post-9/11 matter even though he wasn't captured until 2004. We already have prisoners here in the United States related to terrorism – Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, and John Walker Lindh the “American Taliban” captured in Afghanistan during the war. Do you believe that the U.S. penal system is ready to handle these people?
Stimson: I don't have any concerns that these guys, if brought to the United States, would break out of our federal pens or our military prisons. We have a great record in that regard. I share the same concerns that Director Muller of the FBI says that bringing folks here to the United States may indeed increase the threat to the United States for terrorist attacks of our forces overseas or here in the United States. But I think that it can be managed properly. There is no risk-free solution, at all. But I think that it will eventually happen. The question is what are the details of the plan?
Roberts: So you’re saying yes, it might increase the risk, but that's not a reason to not do it?
Stimson: That's right.
Roberts: So how do you allay people's fears who think if you get these fellows into prisons here they may not be able to perpetrate acts of terrorism themselves, they may not ever be released, but they may influence people who are in prison with them, maybe even recruit them to terrorism?
Stimson: Well, we already have people in prisons in the United States who are attempting to recruit people to jihad. But I think any reasonable plan, and we don't know what the plan is yet, would segregate Guantanamo folks from any of the standard prison population to minimize that threat. Some have suggested breaking up the Guantanamo population you bring here and putting them in separate prisons. I don’t think that's necessarily a good idea. I think you put them all in one place and don't have any standard domestic, what I call “vanilla prisoners” anywhere in the facility to mitigate the threat of that.