Senators: Don't move Guantánamo to Kansas

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

In a Senate-wide appeal, both Kansas senators released a letter Wednesday urging fellow lawmakers to abandon a bipartisan idea to move at least some Guantánamo detainees to Fort Leavenworth, an Army base in their state.

''Fort Leavenworth is a small post relative to the size of other Army installations,'' wrote Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans.

The issue is a source of dispute within the GOP because Republican Sen. John McCain, his party's presumptive presidential nominee, has championed the Fort Leavenworth idea.

Members of Congress from both parties also have long suggested Fort Leavenworth as an alternative to the sprawling prison camp compound in Guantánamo, which today jails 270 war-on-terror captives.

Both McCain and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, have likewise pledged, if elected, to close the controversial detention center at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Brownback and Roberts called it unfair to ask the Army base already guarding criminal soldiers to ``take on a detainee mission that will not improve on arrangements at Guantánamo Bay. Nor is it fair to ask the Kansas community to assume the responsibility associated with being located immediately adjacent to these detainees.''

As though inviting a ''Not in My Backyard'' debate, the senators also noted that the so-called Supermax prison in Florence, Colo., where other alleged al Qaeda terrorists are held, has stricter and more suitable security arrangements for such an assignment.

Fort Leavenworth is an Army base that houses the main Pentagon prison for members of the U.S. military serving long sentences on criminal convictions. It is called the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and has cell space for 515 criminals.

It currently houses 442 soldiers and other service members, all men, six on Death Row. Women felons from the U.S. military are incarcerated in San Diego.

The debate has reintensified with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 5-4 ruling that Guantánamo detainees can appeal their detention in civilian courts, removing a key reason to incarcerate ''enemy combatants'' off U.S. soil.

In their two-page letter, Brownback and Roberts cited a series of objections -- from insufficient cell space at Fort Leavenworth to the inappropriateness of imprisoning foreign captives who are classified as enemies near American prisoners who are members of the U.S. military.

They estimated that moving Guantánamo detainees to Kansas would require 750 additional staff, such as guards and other jail personnel, and noted there is now no place to house them at the base.

Moreover, the senators wrote that Fort Leavenworth has no ``24-hour hospital or an emergency room. So after-hours medical emergencies would require moving detainees off-post and through the city of Leavenworth -- an unacceptable security risk.''

McCain has said he'd like to close the controversial detention center in Cuba because its image has hurt the United States' international standing.

And he has said through his campaign's national security advisor, Randy Scheunemann, that some of the men could be held and tried by military commission at Fort Leavenworth. The campaign had no immediate comment on Wednesday.

Obama has also pledged to close Guantánamo. But he has not said where he might move the men, who include the five alleged 9/11 co-conspirators and other reputed senior al Qaeda terrorists.

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