Wednesday, January 20, 2010

COLUMN: Have you hugged a detainee today?

As you know, President Obama’s first year in office has been considered a tremendous success, especially for the people who make “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Hillary” bumper stickers. So I’m sure his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center will go perfectly fine, and any detainees who are released will immediately become productive (i.e., not homicidal) members of society.

This is presumably the thinking of some aldermen in Newton, Mass., where they proposed an official resolution to welcome such former detainees with open arms. (The phrase “it’s my privilege to extend to you a laurel and hearty handshake” comes to mind.) Others argue that local aldermen shouldn’t be getting involved in “international issues,” because it’s just a small step from welcoming detainees to bombing North Korea. I’m paraphrasing.

Fortunately, the debate on the proposal has been civil, with most residents attending a public hearing on the matter with either a torch or a pitchfork, but not both. Declared one Newtonian (Newtonite?) of the detainees, “They want to behead and explode our children, grandchildren, friends and parents and us!” That’s right: behead and explode. (Not necessarily in that order.)

Just to revisit a little bit of the history, Guantanamo is a U.S. military prison in Cuba where, since 2002, we’ve been putting suspected terrorists until we could figure out what do to with them. The Justice Department advised the Bush administration that it’s officially outside U.S. legal jurisdiction, meaning we could imprison suspects without the evidence we’d need on American soil, but only, and this is very important, “if they look at us funny.”

But Obama apparently has some kind of a problem with locking up people without any evidence, even if those people aren’t Americans — that’s just the type of Nigerian-born fake president he is. So a lot of people will be released and cleared for entry into the U.S., but would an official resolution to welcome them here be the best approach? Let’s consider the pros:

1. It would show we have no hard feelings after locking them up all those years for no reason.

2. It would add diversity to communities like Newton, which, according to the 2000 census, has almost no terrorists. (Sorry, I meant to say Newton has no “enemy belligerents” … although anyone who was at that public hearing might disagree.)

And now the cons:

1. Maybe these guys weren’t locked up for no reason, and they will set upon planning to annihilate us the minute we present them with their complimentary Prius and the keys to their Newton Highlands condo.

2. See No. 1.

Still, I’m sure these detainees are all perfectly nice people, or at least they were before we locked them up and waterboarded them for seven years. For instance, the particular detainee at the heart of the Newton controversy was alleged to be a member of terrorist group Lashkar al-Tayyibi, but has said he worked in a “legally operated charitable wing” of the organization. See, I bet you didn’t even know terrorist groups had charitable wings. Sort of a “Bombers Without Borders.”

Anyway, I’ll be very curious to see how it all plays out in Newton. I personally can appreciate both sides of the issue, and can only hope that, if nothing else, the situation inspires an NBC sitcom in which a Guantanamo detainee (Wilmer Valderrama) is officially welcomed into a small liberal town, except everywhere he goes (the coffee shop, the DMV, to get his hair cut, etc.), people scream and dive under their desks. Or maybe a Fox sitcom, where he moves into a town where all the women have tremendous bosoms. Either would get better ratings than Jay Leno.

As for the Newton detainee, I wish him the best of luck, and if he winds up moving there I have high hopes for him becoming a vital, contributing member of that community. But if he runs for alderman, I recommend they keep him away from North Korea.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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