The Guantanamo Mystique

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Big Sky.jpgAt the risk of repeating myself, I will venture a few more words on the Guantanamo issue, which doesn’t seem to be going away. The question is: Why should this, of all things, have become the issue that has led congressional Democrats to cross over and hand the Obama administration the rudest awakening of its young life?

After all, the actual arguments against moving the detainees to detention facilities in the U.S. are bogus. No one escapes supermax prisons; and there’s no evidence that their presence will draw terrorist attacks or family members to nearby communities. And exactly what “plan” is needed to move a bunch of prisoners from one federal facility to another? But these days it takes more than Republicans and their apologists making bad arguments at the top of their lungs to panic Democrats. Something else is going on here, and it would behoove the administration and its supporters to understand it, and address it head-on.

In her NYT column yesterday, Gail Collins quotes Montana’s two Democratic senators as follows:

“We’re not going to bring Al Qaeda to Big Sky Country — no way, not on my watch,” said Max Baucus.

“If these prisoners need a new place, it’s not going to be anywhere near The Last Best Place,” said Jon Tester.

These are statements not about physical threats, but metaphysical ones. The Guantanamo detainees threaten a kind of ritual pollution of American sacred space. They must be kept out of Big Sky and the Last Best Place because their very presence contaminates it. “These people hate America; they truly hate America,” Glen Morlan,
a disabled Colorado welder, told the NYT’s Kirk Johnson yesterday. “Why would you want to bring them here?”  Only felons who love America need apply.

What’s an administration to do? I’d recommend a campaign of demystification. Make it clear how many of the detainees are not “the worst of the worst.” Make it clear how many terrorists and suspected terrorists are already being held on American soil, right there in God’s country. Talk about the metaphysics. Just exploding the bogus arguments and denouncing the opposition rhetoric won’t cut it.