LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (Reuters) – Not in my backyard! Not in my state! Not in my country! That was the response from politicians and business leaders in Kansas Monday to moves by President Barack Obama to transfer terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to facilities in the United States, perhaps including Kansas.
“This is a patently bad idea,” Republican Senator Sam Brownback told reporters in the northeast Kansas riverside community of Leavenworth near the Fort Leavenworth U.S. Army base, which was cited this weekend as a possible new home for the Guantanamo prisoners.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that a government task force was considering as possible sites Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and a 604-bed maximum security prison in Standish, Michigan, that is scheduled to be closed.
An Obama administration official confirmed Monday that those sites were being looked at but said there were “many, many options” under consideration.
Obama has pledged to close the prison at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo by the end of the year but faces strong opposition from fellow Democrats and Republicans in Congress to transferring the remaining 240 prisoners to U.S. soil for detention and trial.
Harsh interrogations that some see as torture and the detention of suspected Islamic militants without trial at Guantanamo, opened for prisoners in President George W. Bush’s war against terrorism, have seriously damaged the United States’ international reputation.
Brownback said the inmates should stay at Guantanamo and vowed to work with other members of Congress to prohibit any funds from being used to move the prisoners to American soil.
He and other opponents say moving to a U.S. site would make the community a target for terrorist attacks and note that Leavenworth is close to rail lines and the heavily trafficked Missouri River.
They say no move is needed at all as the detainees are already being held “appropriately and safely” at the prison in Cuba, where there are also court facilities.
“NO” TO DETAINEES
“This community has spoken loud and clear. They don’t want the detainees here,” Republican U.S. Representative Jerry Moran told Monday’s news conference.
But the Obama administration counters that the U.S. court and prison systems have handled terrorism cases in the past and could deal with Guantanamo detainees. A number of convicted militants are already being held in U.S. prisons.
Congress has set strict limits on moving detainees until certain conditions are met, including informing lawmakers first and spelling out any threats prisoners could pose or how they were mitigated.
The 134-year-old military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth is already a hardened high-security facility that could be further protected by the surrounding military base.
Business leaders in Leavenworth, about 40 miles from the Kansas City metropolitan area, say locating detainees near their community will depress property values, discourage new business development and put the residents at risk.
“We are not afraid of the prisoners breaking out,” said Leavenworth-Lansin Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Tim Holverson. “We are more concerned with their friends trying to break them out. We don’t want to be a target.”
(Reporting by Carey Gillam, additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by David Storey)