Amherst has no room on its plate for Guantanamo inmates
Much has been said in the media and in private discussions since the Amherst Select Board voted 2-1 last Monday to recommend a plan to move two Guantanamo Bay detainees to Amherst pending their potential release from the controversial prisoner-of-war camp in Cuba.
Town politicians were very eager to emphasize and reiterate that this plan is not as insane and farfetched as has been widely reported – and they may be right – but people will still see this as an openly un-patriotic, perhaps an even treasonous, gesture.
While no one is proposing building a statue of Osama bin Laden or reading the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic, Amherst is neither that insensitive nor that stupid. This plan represents another example of Amherst going out of its way to be overly politically correct, making a caricature of itself as the bleeding-heart lefty town that’s gone off its rocker. Passing this plan will only further embolden Fox News and the right in attacking Amherst as some crackpot den of dope-smoking freaks. Whether or not this plan even is all that sensational is practically irrelevant. It’s the symbolism of it that matters.
While Amherst’s motivations may be the best – it sincerely does care about the welfare of these inmates – the move emphatically places Amherst about as far out there on the political spectrum as Carl Everett or Pat Robertson and opens the door to ridicule and scolding for being a decidedly un-American, un-patriotic place.
Whether these accusations are fair or grounded is beside the point. Make no mistake about it, passing this move will only make Amherst fodder for more jokes about being a place filled with pink-haired communists.
Beyond that, are there not more pressing local issues?
Amherst is about to shut down an elementary school, we have people homeless here in Amherst, across the river in Northampton and just down the road in Holyoke, Mass., and Springfield. We have clear infrastructure problems at the University of Massachusetts, traffic congestion in Amherst, budget issues throughout the region, state, nation and world, and we in Amherst are most impassioned by the plight of two inmates stuck in limbo at a prison in Cuba?
The plan, introduced by Town Meeting member Ruth Hooke, also a member of the group Pioneer Valley for No More Guantanamos, is to offer two current inmates who have been deemed non-threatening to America, the chance to move to Amherst once they have been released from the prison and when the current ban on allowing freed detainees to come to America is lifted.
Presently, those released from Guantanamo and other U.S. prison camps around the world may not come to America upon their release.
Hooke’s warrant article, as the proposal is called, has two components. One part calls for ending the ban on freed detainees emigrating to America. The other part calls for offering the two inmates in question the chance to come to Amherst.
Now, wait for it. Nothing has happened with this, yet.
The Select Board must vote to either recommend or not recommend every warrant article going before the town meeting. Their recommendation is non-binding and really has no bearing on the fate of the proposal, which lies with the Town Meeting, which commences Nov. 2.
Not to dismiss the struggles of these men, but shouldn’t we be working on making Amherst a livelier, safer, richer and happier community, rather than opening the door to ridicule from mainstream America in the hopes of saving accused terrorists?
Amherst is taking on this endeavor with the right intentions, but come on, man, can’t we worry about Guantanamo after we, say, close the budget gap, pave the roads, end local injustice, feed the poor, you know, one of those issues which people are usually getting all worked up about?
Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian editorial board