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Politics > Politics and Prejudices

Another blown chance

Opening our jails to Gitmo detainees could have brought billions

 

Published 6/10/2009

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More from Jack Lessenberry

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What do you think about ... moving all the prisoners at Guantanamo to a prison somewhere in the Upper Peninsula?

Actually, this is one of those ideas that seems screamingly crazy at first blush, and then makes more and more sense when you think about it. We've got the space and capacity for them — we did even before Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced last week that she was closing eight prisons to save money, four of them in the Upper Peninsula, where unemployment is always high.

The idea first came from a surprising source — former Gov. John Engler. This column has never been very friendly to the spherical one, who for a dozen years worked hard and largely successfully to turn this state over to right-wing greedheads.

That is not to diminish his savvy. If Granholm had possessed half his talents for governing, Michigan wouldn't be in such a mess today.

Now in exile as head of the National Association of Manufacturers, Engler suggested that Michigan establish a detention facility for the 240 or so prisoners now being held at our base on Guantanamo. President Obama has vowed to close our Cuban prison camp, but nobody has figured out what to do with the inmates. Engler thought we should volunteer to take them, and charge Washington maybe $1 billion a year.

After a time, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a lifelong Yooper and, unlike Engler, a Democrat, got on the bandwagon. Rather than stick them in an existing maximum-security prison, he suggested renovating a recently closed prison, Camp Manistique. Other politicians followed. "We would need to harden the facility to make it maximum security," said state Rep. Steve Lindberg of Marquette. "But given the economy, if there were going to be a good number of jobs coming out of this ..." Unemployment is at double digits throughout the UP; in Schoolcraft County, where the camp is located, the jobless rate is 16 percent.

What should have happened next was for Jennifer Granholm to quickly figure out how this could work, run some numbers, and make a behind-the-scenes proposal to President Obama. My guess is he would have gone for it.

Naturally, that would have involved our governor being daring, making a bold decision, and going out on a limb. Not a chance, in other words. And then, to the dismay of those who are reality-based, Rep. Pete Hoekstra got into the act. Hoekstra, for those of you with lives, is a congressman from west Michigan who has decided to leave Washington and run for the GOP nomination for governor.

Unfortunately for him, nobody is noticing. So he decided to resort to the time-honored tactic of fear-mongering. "These are 240 of the most dangerous people in the world!" he bellowed. "They would become a magnet for homegrown terrorism! These are dangerous folks!"

Soon, this kind of demagoguery had Yoopers scared. One housewife told a local paper she feared "a potential terrorist cell in this community." Others seemed convinced they'd run into Osama while refilling their propane tanks.

Disgusted, Stupak threw in the towel and said he wasn't going to say anything more unless his fellow politicians gave him some political cover. Everybody else clammed up, the idea seemed to die, and a week later, Granholm announced she was closing eight prisons, half of them in the UP, where there are only 300,000 or so people. Surely this is an area that could benefit economically from the alleged terrorists being held here. The idea that they would present a great danger to the community is so stupid as to be laughable.

First of all, let's assume that we hardened one of the existing prisons to "supermax" standards. Nobody has ever escaped from a federal or state supermax prison. Let's say one of the Guantanamo inmates did get out. What would he do? So, you have a guy who is clearly ethnically different and doesn't speak a word of English, wearing an orange jumpsuit in the Upper Peninsula brush.

Reality check: There really aren't very many al-Qaeda cells in Neguanee, though there may be a crazy Finn or two in Munising. Upper Peninsula residents are in far greater danger of some Michigan-bred crook or killer busting out of one of the existing prisons and wreaking havoc.

By the way, the media mindlessly repeat the Cheney Administration mantra that Guantanamo houses "some of the most evil and dangerous people in the world, blah, blah, blah." Frankly, we have no idea how true that is.

When I was younger, I lived in a country called America, where they put people on trial before condemning them. I imagine some of the detainees are nogoodniks of one variety or another. But it seems clear that 22 of them are members of an ethnic Chinese minority called Uyghurs, who are no threat to us or probably to anybody, but who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Six years ago, even the Pentagon determined they should be released. But they are still there, apparently because the government of our good buddy Communist China hates them, and we can't figure out what to do with them. Nice way for a democracy to act, eh?

The other day, I read some hysterical right-wing blog that claimed that President Obama was surrounded by left-wingers so extreme they think the Guantanamo inmates should have a trial in a courtroom, with defense counsel. Well, I'm not close to the man, but I plead guilty to being such an ultra-extreme left-wing wacko that I believe in the U.S. Constitution.

So report me, please.


Back to the can, now:
Some citizens expressed outrage last winter when former mayor and convicted felon Kwame Kilpatrick was allowed to serve only four months in the slam and then depart for a cushy job in Texas, courtesy of one of Detroit's biggest angels, Pete Karmanos.

At the time, I thought this made perfect sense; it got KK's toxic presence out of town (yay!) and gave him a chance to start over. Now, however, it is clear that he is no more capable of giving up thuggery than the Big Lebowski would be capable of being a workaholic.

The terms of Kwame's probation specify that he make restitution of $6,000 a month. Last month he paid only $2,500, something his lawyer called an "oversight." What makes that more outrageous is that he is being asked to pay back only $1 million of the $9 million his lying cost his impoverished city.

KK also asked probation officials to let him travel to the Middle East on a business trip. Turns out his employer knew nothing about it; this seems to have been a request to join his mommy, Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, on a congressional junket. (Great use of our tax dollars, eh?)

So he has once again tried to cheat the system out of money, and lied to the court. Wayne Country Prosecutor Kym Worthy is correct: His probation should be revoked, and he needs to do some more serious time in the slam.

You know he will anyway, sooner or later.


Correction:
Last week's column began by saying that the Emory, a popular Ferndale restaurant, was a block north of Nine Mile. It is actually a block south of Nine Mile, as many of you let me know. That was a stupid and careless mistake, and I am turning in my surveyor's badge.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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