Ahmed Ghailani was transferred yesterday from the prison at Guantánamo Bay to a New York City court—just before a panicked Congress delays such transfers—to stand trial for his role in the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings. Ghailani’s transfer marks the first demonstration of the Obama administration’s commitment to closing Guantánamo and putting U.S. detention policy back on firm legal footing. President Barack 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.
Some members of Congress are using the same scare tactics of our terrorist enemies and have tried to frighten the American people with ridiculous claims that Guantánamo detainees are somehow incredibly dangerous and threatening when they are locked away in maximum security U.S. prisons. The facts are, of course, that more than 200 international terrorists have been convicted in U.S. courts and reside in U.S. jails, and no one has ever escaped from a Supermax prison—the ultimate destination for Guantánamo detainees convicted in U.S. courts.
Facts and experience are the best means to counter arguments based in fear. Great care must be taken to ensure a successful prosecution, but President Obama should now be able to go to the American people armed with a clear demonstration that America’s existing institutions are capable of keeping us safe. Even if Congress delays additional transfers for several months, the next time it considers the issue it will be confronted with the reality of an ongoing trial in federal court. The sky will not have fallen.
Choosing to prosecute a Guantánamo detainee in federal court is a real and meaningful change from the previous administration and should show the world that the United States is committed to closing the prison camp. One detainee is far from a complete solution, but it is a clear and important first step in actually bringing to an end the disaster that is Guantánamo.
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