Since President Barack Obama vowed to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison complex housing terrorist suspects by next year, Alexandrias history of playing babysitter for the federal government has resurfaced. The feds used Alexandrias city jail to house terrorist suspects, most notably conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America in 2001.
The city admirably performed its duty to the country by keeping federal inmates here, despite the appearance that martial law was being enforced in the densely populated area around Eisenhower Avenue. This crowded area includes the United States Patent Office, numerous high-rise luxury apartment buildings, restaurants and hotels housing tourists and business travelers just outside of Old Town.
This time, city officials should lobby against the prospect of high profile prisoners returning to Alexandria, as their presence could burden the city and cost its taxpayers a great deal of money.
It is Alexandrias public safety resources that could be overworked and taken from other sectors of the city in need of police presence to guard against the heightened possibility of attacks from terrorist sympathizers.
It is the residents and business owners living near the jail a once-desolate area that will endure the same snipers and barricades present when Moussaoui was on trial. Rush hour traffic on Eisenhower Avenue is already bumper-to-bumper without the presence of infamous celebrities travelling to and from the federal courthouse.
Of course, no one wants such a burden in their backyard. And what the federal government wants, it often gets. Take the new Department of Defense facility at the Mark Center, which just broke ground on Tuesday. The feds say it needs a fire station but the citys fire resources are already stretched thin. The federal government has not agreed to even subsidize the cost of the station yet and, as one City Council candidate said last week at a forum, the city will seek cooperation from the feds but their hands could be tied.
If the federal government gives Alexandria no choice, surely the city will suck it up and admirably do its duty again. But Alexandrias taxpayers should not have to foot the bill alone. Moving prisoners from Gitmo to Alexandria should only happen if at all after every possible alternative option has been explored.
Sure, the proximity of Alexandrias maximum-security prison to the federal courthouse is convenient for the prisoners, not the citizens. The feds should look into a relatively close prison of the same security in a more rural area where the effect on the countrys law-abiding citizens would be mitigated. And if not, the federal government needs to subsidize the cost of using Alexandrias public safety officers and the possible decrease of income for business owners in a declining economy.
It is the city and state governments responsibility to respond when called on by the federal government. But the federal government has a responsibility as well, and the city should make it known that such a densely populated area should be the absolute last option in which to house Gitmo terrorist suspects.