Robert Downes 6/22/09
Recently, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak came up with an idea for pumping an extra
$1 billion or so into the economy of the Upper Peninsula. He was turned
The idea? Turn one of the U.P.‘s prisons into a supermax facility and
transfer the detainees of Guantanamo there in exchange for a fat check
from Uncle Sam each year.
Stupak wrote a letter to President Obama in February, suggesting that the
30-acre Camp Manistique be converted to a high-security prison to house
the Gitmo prisoners.
The 290-bed prison in Schoolcraft County was closed in 2007. It‘s one of
four prisons in the U.P. that have been closed while Michigan tries to
pare down its $2 billion Corrections budget. Hundreds of jobs have been
lost in the U.P. due to the closings.
Former Republican Gov. John Engler has endorsed Stupak‘s plan as a way to
give Michigan‘s budget a boost and bring jobs to the Upper Peninsula.
Stupak was hoping for support from his fellow Michigan lawmakers. He got
little or none. Instead, 2010 gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Pete
Hoekstra took pains to fan the fires of paranoia.
As noted in the Associated Press, Hoekstra called Stupak‘s proposal a
really bad idea... balancing Michigans budget on the premise of bringing
240 of the most dangerous people in the world to the Upper Peninsula.
Other state Republicans piled on, including Attorney General Mike Cox and
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.
Message to U.P. residents: get used to eating stone soup, because Lansing
feels you‘re too incompetent to deal with “the most dangerous people in
the world“ -- even those under the most extreme security imaginable.
Nor did Stupak receive much support from his own party. Governor
Jennifer Granholm, who could perhaps cinch the deal with a phone call to
President Obama, has declined to pursue the matter.
Unfortunately, the idea has given rise to fearmongering from those who
watch too many Die Hard movies or episodes of 24. Scare stories and
Chicken Little letters in the U.P. press imagine escaped terrorists
tip-toeing through the pine trees. Most run along the line that the
crafty, resourceful jihadists will easily thwart the safeguards of a
supermax prison and turn the U.P. into a bloodbath. As one blogger
claims, gun-toting Arabs could drive up from their stronghold in Dearborn
and bust those baddies out of the slammer, kind of like a Nicholas Cage
The truth is, no one has ever escaped from a U.S. “super-maximum“ prison,
which is no picnic by any standard. Some human rights advocates claim
that a life of solitary confinement in a supermax is so severe it
qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment.“
Consider the fate of Al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th 9/11
hijacker,“ who was sentenced to life in the federal ADX Supermax prison in
Florence, Colorado -- also known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.“ As a
supermax prisoner, Moussaoui is monitored 24 hours a day by closed-circuit
TV. He is allowed out of his cell for only one hour per day to exercise,
and receives his meal through a port called a “chuck hole.“ The massive
reinforced steel doors of his prison are electronically controlled,
allowing no way for either a hostage or a prisoner to open them. He lives
in a windowless concrete cell, the walls and plumbing of which are
soundproofed to prevent any communication with other inmates.
It‘s unlikely that the residents of Colorado will find Moussaoui creeping
around their neighborhoods anytime soon, and such would also be the case
in the U.P.
But suppose some Arabicspeaking detainee did manage to break out, running
around the woods in an blaze-orange jumpsuit with all of those gun-toting
Yoopers in hot pursuit? We‘d have to send in the Michigan National Guard
to rescue the guy.
In a June 11 editorial endorsing Stupak‘s idea, the Detroit News made
the following point: “Could the Gitmo detainees be any more of a threat
than the Level 5 prisoners -- the worst of the worst, according to the
state Corrections Department rating system -- behind bars at Marquette
Branch Prison in the U.P.?“
It‘s possible that the idea of a supermax for Manistique isn‘t dead yet.
U.S. Senator Carl Levin has said it would be worth considering if local
officials in the U.P. give it their blessing. The plan also has the
support of the conservative Detroit News, along with former Gov. Engler.
So, who knows? With unemployment in Schoolcraft County exceeding 16
percent and no jobs in sight, it could be that the gang from Gitmo could
still receive a hearty Yooper welcome for the jobs and federal money
they‘ll bring north.
Either that, or those prisoners will head for another supermax prison --
say in Illinois or Colorado -- and our leaders in Lansing will have blown