Gitmo tainted U.S. image, record

News about the White House plan to move Guantanamo Bay detainees to a prison in northwestern Illinois should be a relief for Kansans who were concerned the inmates might end up at the ill-suited U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

It also should be a relief for the nation, because of the damage the prisoner abuses and legal limbo at Guantanamo have done to America's reputation as the world's greatest defender of human rights.

As for worries that the detainees will pose a threat, either on their own or by inspiring attacks on U.S. soil — the nation has proved it can handle alleged terrorists, having seen nearly 350 convicted in U.S. courts and confined to U.S. prisons over the years.

There once was broad support for a Gitmo shutdown, after all, including from former President Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, and GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

But once closing Gitmo moved from talk to action, the positions shifted along partisan and geographical lines. So the GOP members of the Kansas delegation in Washington, D.C., reacted predictably to Tuesday's announcement.

The statement by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, made a point of noting that the Illinois prison is "less than 300 miles from the Kansas border" and warned, "The president's decision to house unrepentant terrorists in the Midwest will put the safety of American citizens at greater risk."

Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, also characterized the move as a threat to public safety and said he'd "oppose any efforts to authorize and fund this dangerous policy." Sen. Pat Roberts, who had joined Sen. Sam Brownback in blocking the president's nomination of the Army secretary to block the detainees' transfer to Kansas, called the decision "one of all risk and no benefit to the American people."

Announcing that detainees will be relocated doesn't guarantee Gitmo's closure, of course. Not all locals in Illinois support making the 1,600-bed Thomson Correctional Center home to the detainees and some military tribunals, though many welcome the resulting jobs and economic development.

And because some of the detainees are considered a threat to society but not suitable for prosecution, the plan depends on a congressional repeal of legislation passed earlier this year prohibiting the transfer of detainees to U.S. soil for a reason other than prosecution. That change may be a tough sell, with even McCain and Graham now finding fault with President Obama's plan.

But as Gates said this month, the Guantanamo Bay facility "has a legacy. It bears a taint. It is a training tool for al-Qaida." According to the White House, al-Qaida leadership has used Gitmo in its recruiting videos 32 times since 2001, including four times this year.

If Obama presides over the prison's closure at all, even if it's after his executive order deadline of Jan. 22, he'll deserve credit for consigning the Guantanamo Bay period to the nation's past.