The mayor of Leavenworth doesn’t want Guantánamo Bay detainees at the Fort Leavenworth federal prison. Neither does a big slice of Leavenworth’s citizenry. Or Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, all of the Kansas congressional delegation, and a contingent of vocal state legislators.
That much was clear from a town hall meeting Thursday.
Local leaders and citizens told Brownback that bringing the terrorism detainees to the maximum security prison inside the fort would damage tourism, discourage candidates from attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College there, and make the entire Kansas City region a target for other terrorists.
The angst of citizens is understandable. But while the public hearing was heavy on emotion, it was notably light on facts or solid information.
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No military commander was on hand to comment on assertions from Brownback and others that the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth is less suited to house the foreign detainees than the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba.
No U.S. Justice Department lawyer was present to respond to claims that bringing the inmates onto U.S. soil would entitle them to all the rights of U.S. citizens — legal experts dispute that, in fact.
Their absence wasn’t surprising. Opposition to a transfer of Guantánamo detainees is running well ahead of any concrete plan to move them to a U.S. prison.
Pentagon teams visited Fort Leavenworth and a military facility in Charleston, S.C., in recent weeks as early steps toward a possible plan for relocating Guantánamo’s last 116 captives and closing down the prison. Officials have said at most 64 inmates would be moved to the United States. The others are candidates for relocation in other nations.
Any plan that evolves would have to overcome a congressional embargo on the use of taxpayer money to move Guantánamo detainees to the United States. Legislation currently in the works in the Senate would make it even harder to move inmates to the mainland or resettle them in other countries.
Brownback and other officeholders know this. But there is little to lose by objecting to the prospect of foreign terrorists being confined in a U.S. prison in Kansas.
At the hearing, the governor repeatedly shared his belief that the safest place to keep detainees from the war on terror is where they currently are, off of U.S. soil and largely out of sight.
“They are where they are for a reason, and this has been a facility that’s worked,” Brownback said.
But Guantánamo has long been used as a propaganda tool by terrorists because it has enabled the U.S. to detain prisoners without trial, and because of documented instances of torture of some prisoners. U.S. leaders are right to question whether continued operation of the facility is itself a security risk.
“One of my main concerns is the possibility that dangerous terrorist groups around the world are using Guantánamo’s existence as a recruitment tool, to enlist more extremists who want to harm America’s interests,” U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, told The Star this week. “So I’m eager to see the forthcoming plan by the president on how he plans to shut down the detention facility, without compromising our national security in the process.”
That measured opinion wouldn’t have played well at Brownback’s town hall meeting. But it is exactly the sort of fact-finding approach that is called for at this time.