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What Can Comic Books Tell Us About the Guantanamo Debate?

250px-Green_Arrow_60_cover.jpgAtrios, I think, has the right response to the bewildering furor over keeping terrorists in domestic prisons. These are not "actual supervillains with special powers." And if indeed they were actual supervillains with special powers, our prisons would probably still hold them. As Glenn Greenwald points out, our SuperMax prison "has had no escapes or serious attempts to escape." And half of that remains true even in comic books. Greenwald continues: "Actually, the only person to even make an escape attempt from a SuperMax is Green Arrow, who hasn't succeeded despite the help of Joker and Lex Luthor." That's strong evidence for the security of the Supermax. Even comic book authors can't credibly imagine an effective method of escape.

Adam Serwer replies that this is "completely incorrect." He notes that Magneto, nemesis of the X-Men, did indeed escape from a high-powered holding facility after his minion injected iron into his blood. But contra Adam, there's no evidence that Magneto was held in a Supermax facility during that period. Thus, Greenwald's central objection stands. (Though I think Ta-Nehisi Coates raises some fair concerns.)

But here's what I think we can safely say: A terrorist capable of escaping from a Supermax prison is probably capable of swimming, too. So it's not clear how much protection Guantanamo offers.

The more serious objection was raised by FBI director Robert Mueller yesterday. "The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing, radicalizing others," he said. It's hard, however, to mesh that argument with our current system of imprisonment. We don't want to encourage drug dealing, but we put drug dealers in cells together with both other dealers and other types of criminals. We don't want anyone converted to the wanton joys of murder, but murderers regularly interact with the general prison population. And it's certainly not clear that converting to Islam and conducting terrorism against the United States is a more intuitively attractive post-prison profession than, say, selling cocaine.

(Image credit: Wikipedia.)

By Ezra Klein  |  May 21, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
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I'm going to guess that prison guards, on average, lean Republican. What do they think of Republicans implying that they suck at their jobs? Republicans love to hide behind "support the troops" gimmicks; maybe Democrats might want to go to the podium defending domestic imprisonment of convicted terrorists out of Guantanamo with some card-carrying U.S. prison guards at their sides and challenge the Republicans to insult the guards to their faces. (And from what I can tell, tons of prison guards double as military reservists and national guardsfolk, which is frosting on the cake here.)

Posted by: JonathanTE | May 21, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

On the other hand, prison guards tend to be unionized, so I wonder how that tilts the partisan needle.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | May 21, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

My not-well-informed impression is that prison guard unions are good at promoting things that are "good" for prisons: three strikes laws and other policies that create more and longer-term prisoners. Almost by necessity, that means they play ball with Republicans more often than Democrats. (An exception that kinda sorta proves the rule is the California prison guard union's efforts to recall Governor Schwarzenegger, due to him being "a governor that’s utterly failed. We have one of the largest deficits in California history and one of the longest budget stalemates." The union doesn't like budget deficits in states because that leads to discussions of budget cutting, and that, every so often, leads to discussions of shrinking the prison-industrial complex. I doubt this Guantanamo thing would convert a lot of guard hearts and minds, but it would be a useful, if temporary, political stunt by the Democrats.

Posted by: JonathanTE | May 21, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Rorschach escaped from Sing Sing in "Watchmen". Or doesn't that count as a SuperMax prison?

Posted by: member5 | May 21, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't get where conservAtives find all this faith in the Cuban government to protect us from one of these terrorists, if he were to escape Gitmo. Such a hardcore enemy of the American state might well be Castro's New best friend.

Posted by: Aatos | May 21, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse

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