About the Thomson Prison Debate

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I join Neil Steinberg in condemning Congressman Mark Kirk for the letter Kirk sent President Obama urging him to put those "200 Al Qaeda terrorists" somewhere else, for if they're transferred from Guantanamo Bay to the state prison in Thomson, Illinois, "our state and the Chicago Metropolitan Area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization."

The republic needs to be defended; yet the hundreds of thousands of Americans who wear the uniforms of its armed forces return time and again to the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan while nothing is asked of the hundreds of millions of Americans who don't. Kirk believes it is too much to ask the civilians of the Chicago metropolitan area to abide terrorists locked up in a prison 150 miles away. As far as utterly passive contributions to a great cause are concerned, Kirk views this one as intolerably onerous.

But we can't put Kirk's point in its proper place — the Disposall — if we don't admit he has one. "We should not invite Al Qaeda to make Illinois its number one target," Kirk told Obama, and when I read that for the first time I asked myself, what does he think we are now? The time for Kirk to have raised his voice was last autumn, when "If we elect a Chicagoan president of the United States we're making his home town Al Qaeda's number one target!" might have sent a powerful message to undecided invertebrates. But today, Thomson prison or no Thomson prison, that horse has left the barn.

Then I thought twice. Among the reasons for 9/11 was a failure of America's imagination. Al Qaeda struck in a way America did not anticipate, though that way was virtually sitting in plain sight. Today it is almost a parlor game to imagine how they would imagine and then outimagine them. I can imagine Al Qaeda imagining what great theater it would be if a handful of terrorists created some astonishing hostage situation in Chicago and demanded the release of the prisoners at Thomson.

It's a possible scenario, nothing more. It might be just enough of a possibility to appeal to Chicagoans who want to feel a little gallant, who think that like the plane spotters of London during the Battle of Britain, by sanctioning the Thomson prison they'll feel like civilians doing their bit.

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