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Do Republicans Favor Expelling Terrorists From U.S. Prisons?

(AP)
House Republicans introduced the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act last month.

The act is "aimed at stopping the transfer or release of terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States," according to a release from Republican Leader John Boehner. It prohibits the Obama administration from "transferring or releasing" Gitmo detainees without approval from the elected officials in the state to which the detainee would be sent.

But while the legislation itself deals specifically with Guantanamo Bay detainees – not all of whom, it should be noted, are necessarily "terrorists" – its name signals a broader position: that anyone considered a terrorist should be kept off of U.S. soil.

And yet there are already a number of terrorists who live in America – or, more specifically, in American prisons. Among them are Ramzi Yousef, convicted masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Sept. 11th conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

The Washington Post reported last month that "thirty-three international terrorists, many with ties to al-Qaeda, reside in a single federal prison in Florence, Colo." That supermax facility is where Yousef and Moussaoui are held.

Which raises the question: If Boehner and other House Republicans believe terrorists should be kept out of America, what do they believe should be done with the ones who are already here?

In search of an answer, Hotsheet asked Boehner spokesman Michael Steel if the House Republican leader opposes the practice of holding terrorists in U.S. prisons.

Steel said such a question is "six steps down the road." He said President Obama needs to offer a more specific plan for dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees before such issues are addressed.

"Our position right now is the president needs to tell Congress, tell the American people, what his plan is," he said.

It should be noted that it is not just Republicans who have opposed the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said last month that "part of what we don't want is them be put in prisons in the United States." (He later signaled he was open to the possibility.)

It's also worth keeping in mind the larger and complex questions about what to do with Guantanamo Bay detainees. The Obama administration has divided the detainees into three categories: Those who will be tried in U.S. courts, those who will be tried at military tribunals, and those who will be held indefinitely without trial. The first detainee to be tried in U.S. courts,
Ahmed Ghailani (pictured above), was flown to New York City to face trial this week. He is now being held in Manhattan.

The Obama administration, one can safely assume, is only trying in civilian courts detainees it believes will be convicted. But the possibility exists that they will not be found guilty. And if that happens, it's unclear whether they will be allowed to remain on U.S. soil.

Significant issues around the detainees, then, remain unresolved. But the fact remains that much of the rhetoric from politicians on both sides of the aisle has centered on whether or not those deemed terrorists should be in the United States at all – and that includes within prisons.

If these politicians believe terrorists should not be in the country, even in prison, that raises questions about what they feel should be done with Yousef, Moussaoui and the other terrorists currently being held in U.S. facilities.

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