Lawmakers: Guantanamo detainees should ‘Keep Out’
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
WASHINGTON ” Even before President Barack Obama moved to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay lockup, several communities were engaged in a furious game of hot potato over who will inherit the prisoners.
Now, members of Congress are tossing the spuds ” at each other.
A Colorado congressman suggests sending terror detainees to any military prison, rather than his state’s federal penitentiary, where they put the Unabomber. A South Carolina congressman says send them to the already-famous prisons in Kansas. A Missouri Republican says let those who support closing Guantanamo take them.
“We ought to put ’em in Alcatraz and let our good friends in San Francisco deal with these deadly combatants,” says Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., backing his Kansas colleagues.
The not-in-my-backyard stakes are high, and no wonder: Who wants to be the place that picked up where Guantanamo left off?
“We’ll become like Guantanamo Bay. It was probably a really nice place until we started using it for the purpose it’s used. Now it’s synonymous with that,” said Tim Holverson, executive vice president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t want to be a community that is synonymous with that.”
Last week, Obama ordered the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba shut down in a year. A task force has 30 days to recommend where to put the 245 remaining detainees.
In an interview aired Monday on NBC’s “Today” show, Obama said he was confident that working with the international community the United States would find a solution to relocating the detainees without jeopardizing national security.
“We can balance those interests in a way that makes all of us proud but also assures that we’re not attacked,” Obama said.
Military officials told Congress that possible U.S. sites for Guantanamo prisoners included Fort Leavenworth, Kan. and the Naval Consolidated Brig near Charleston, S.C. Others mentioned were Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Colorado’s Supermax prison, which has already held Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
Lawmakers filed a handful of bills, now pending in House or Senate committees, aimed at keeping detainees out of their states. They cite various reasons: Insufficient prison space, no on-site medical facilities and close proximity to high-population centers.
Bond and Kansas’s two senators filed a bill requiring a 90-day study before transferring “enemy combatants.” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., advocated barring use of federal funds to move detainees to Camp Pendleton or Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, both near San Diego. Rep. Henry Brown Jr., R-S.C. filed a similar bill for his state. Several House Republicans signed onto a bill that bars U.S. entry or release for a foreigner captured and detained abroad during wartime.
Outside of the flying legislative paperwork, Brown upset his Kansas colleagues last November when he said Fort Leavenworth was better equipped for this duty than his state’s Naval brig. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., joined with Republican colleagues to argue that Supermax isn’t suitable, even though it is a maximum security prison.
One lawmaker, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, welcomed the prospect of housing detainees, saying there’s no reason they couldn’t be put in U.S. prisons and treated like normal inmates.
Kansas, however, has hung the “Keep Out” signs with special intensity. Fort Leavenworth is home to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the Defense Department’s only maximum security prison. Leavenworth, a city of about 35,000, also has what locals call “The Big House,” a U.S. penitentiary where Prohibition-era gangster Machine Gun Kelly died.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius gave Defense Secretary Robert Gates several arguments against Fort Leavenworth, including local fears that the government will seize prime private property.
Putting terrorists in U.S. prisons is nothing new. Timothy McVeigh, who was put to death for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was housed at four: Supermax and federal prisons in El Reno, Okla., Englewood, Colo., and Terre Haute, Ind.
Alleged al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali Saleh al-Marri, the only person being held in the U.S. as an enemy combatant, is in the Naval Brig in South Carolina.
The city of North Charleston, S.C., one of three communities bordering the 17,000-acre Charleston Naval Weapons Station, has made clear that it doesn’t want Guantanamo detainees, said Ray Anderson, an aide to the mayor.
“We’ve already had some detainees and hopefully they will look at other communities that haven’t had the pleasure,” Anderson said.
Jim Wood, mayor of Oceanside, Calif., north of San Diego, told his local newspaper that residents may not even know if detainees were nearby at Camp Pendleton or Miramar. City Manager Peter Weiss said the city has a close relationship with Camp Pendleton, but the council hasn’t taken an official position on the issue.
Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Guantanamo detainees could go to pretrial detention facilities that held many of the 145 international terrorists who have been convicted in the U.S. since 2001.
“All this NIMBY talk, it’s not only not helpful,” Mendelson said, “it is addressing (an) approach that was talked about in the last administration that generated a lot of fear, where people were told hundreds of detainees will be brought to a facility near you.” She was referring to the “not in my backyard” attitude of many.
Mendelson led a group of experts that made recommendations on closing Guantanamo. Their report, issued last summer, raised the possibility of housing detainees in Fort Leavenworth, Camp Pendleton and the Navy Brig in South Carolina.
Any of those facilities would need to be reconfigured, the report said, and no option is ideal.
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