Written by James Gordon Meek
That's the fundamental question that ought to be going through the minds of Northern Virginia residents this week, amid news reports - including my own New York Daily News exclusive today - that a group from Gitmo may soon be making house in the D.C. surburbs. Officials tell The News the ethnic Turk Muslims from China, known as Uyghurs, will be settled in a Uyghur community in Fairfax, Va. - if Team Obama gives the thumbs up.
While Republicans have unarguably been making political hay out of this news - as well as the release of the Bush-era "torture memos" and President Obama's plan to close Gitmo by January - they are indeed representing the views of many counterterrorism officials by objecting strenuously to plans to resettle a half-dozen former detainees in the D.C. suburbs.
"There are people in the intelligence community who are concerned about the Uyghurs from a security standpoint," Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), ranking GOPer on the Homeland Security Committee, told me this week. "They have very real worries."
Counterterrorism officials I spoke to have expressed concern but no great alarm. Some see a greater threat than others. But at the core of the debate is that it's not entirely clear how connected the detainees were to a Uyghur terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, before they were nabbed after 9/11.
"How do you say for sure? You don't, and that's the problem," said one U.S. official briefed on contingency operations involving the Uyghur detainees.
Another matter is whether they grew into hardened jihadis during the seven years they've been held at Gitmo, though now in a minimally restrictive camp.
"You don't know what kind of radicalization happened down there," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), whose district is the spot where U.S. officials are looking to relocate the Gitmo group.
Wolf and King complain Team Obama hasn't told them much. But other officials insist the members have been regularly briefed on Gitmo plans.
As The News reported today, a sweeping security operation by the FBI and Homeland Security Department is in place to keep a watchful eye on the Uyghurs if they're released in Virginia. But Wolf said the costs to taxpayers of the surveillance will be high for a decade or more, during which time the Uyghurs may become determined to attack the Red Chinese government.
"Will they one day try to kill the Chinese ambassador?" Wolf wonders. "You'd have to do (surveillance) forever."
"We are not as much worried," said Alim Seytoff, general secretary of the Uyghur American Association in Washington. "If the Uyghurs (at Gitmo) are released, we will welcome them."