Alexandrias congressional voice, Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), has responded to rumors that Alexandrias densely populated Eisenhower Avenue area could very well be the docking place for some of the 240 foreign prisoners suspected of terrorism who are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The Obama Administration has not made a decision on where the prisoners will go only that the facility, marred by what Moran calls a history of lawlessness, will definitely be shut down.
In the past, the Alexandria Times has pushed for the citys representatives and stakeholders to speak out against the queasy idea of housing suspected terrorists here and it still does because of the strain it would put on residents and the citys public safety resources. The city has already tasted the sour grapes associated with housing convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui at the citys jail and trying him at the federal courthouse, complete with media spectacles, heavy traffic and increased security reminiscent of martial law.
If more than a few suspected terrorists are housed here, there is also a possibility of empathizers demonstrating however they see fit, one of the many reasons no one wants Gitmo detainees coming here.
But in the past, we have also said that Alexandrias character is such that if asked to help, residents and city employees will suck it up, perhaps having learned lessons from handling high-profile federal prisoners that have resided here in the past: Moussaoui, American-born enemy combatant John Walker Lindh and John Muhammad, the serial sniper killer.
Many disagree with the basic decision to close Guantanamo, but President Barack Obama has put a premium on it to acknowledge the direct opposition to the countrys values and judicial system exhibited by the continued use of Gitmo. It is Americas responsibility to try these terrorist suspects under the principles of the countrys equal justice system to maintain the values on which the country was founded. Granted, Gitmo may have cleaned up its act since its early years, and the move to close it is a political one aimed at improving Americas standing abroad.
Whether that was the right decision or not, it would be political suicide for Obama to go back on it now, and would cause tremors of distrust from allies.
Alexandria has a state-of-the-art federal courthouse facility built to try federal cases, big and small. Not utilizing it for probably the most important federal trials in the countrys history, if asked to do so by the Obama Administration, would be selfish, if not wrong. The citys Sheriff Department is trained to deal with high-profile prisoners, and city police have such experience as well.
Alexandria is the wrong locale to try terrorist suspects. But is there a right locale? For city residents, the answer may be yes: try the suspects in military courts (a direction President Obama seems to be leaning toward), and hold them in military prisons if Gitmo must be closed down. Or send them to the new empty prison in the rural town of Hardin, Mont. These are options that should be explored by the citys representatives (as should every possible alternative) in Washington and at City Hall, though the use of military commissions for these particular suspects has been a point of litigious contention since started by the Bush Administration.
One thing is certain: If prisoners do come to the city, it should not be at the extra expense of city taxpayers. Funds and resources need to be pipelined into the city to subsidize the human and monetary expense. If the federal government expects Alexandria to babysit, a proper fee is in order.