You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Prisoners: Is The Times Imprisoned By A Cause?

The New York Times is engaged in constant battle for the "rights" of detainees held on charges of terrorism. In an editorial on Friday it virtually shrieked that "Guantánamo Must Be Closed." I actually think that this cause has become an idée fixe with the Times and with other civil libertarians who believe that they can make a constitutional case based on the place of detention.

The government has plans to try 40 of those incarcerated, including five--Khalid Sheikh Mohammed among them--in a federal court a few minutes walk from Ground Zero. "Some of the others," it observes, also "should be tried." What about the rest? "Some should go free," the Times asserts breezily. OK with me. But what about the remainder of the rest, the detritus, so to speak? There are those, the Times again pronounces confidently, who "once posed a threat but no longer do so and should go to other countries under supervision." Which countries? Yemen, perhaps? And under what supervision? The secret police of some benign dictatorship? Maybe anything will do.  Just get them off our hands.

Now, believe me, I do not want these prisoners to be kept on the American tip of Cuba indefinitely. The Illinois prison is a fine place for them to be; the Republicans (and some Democrats) have made a nasty fetish of the danger this supposedly poses for the American citizenry. And, yes, I suppose these left-overs should be tried. But it's not a big civil liberties issue with me. They were captured in a war that we did not declare ... one that they and their sheikhs proclaimed and which they haven't yet called off. In the slaughterhouse which they have made of present-day history it is not so big a miscarriage of justice that, given the unsatisfactory alternatives, utter fair-mindedness be put on hold.

Let us not, however, take any of this casually. As the Times almost by accident conceded, "There are more than 350 currently serving sentences for terrorism in American prisons." Given the rash and rush of recent arrests in both our country and other democratic societies we should be more vigilant not less.