About 200 people showed up Thursday at a town hall meeting to learn more about the potential transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Fort Leavenworth.
Mayor Lisa Weakley, at the start of the meeting at the Riverfront Community Center, cited concerns over security and whether the move would have any economic impact.
“We do not want this mission,” she said. “This is putting a huge target on our community. This will not bring jobs to our community.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced the meeting last week as part of his reaction against the prospect of a detainee transfer.
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To applause and hoots from the crowd Thursday, he said, “I’m saying not in anybody’s backyard.” Brownback said.
Some saw Brownback’s call for a town hall meeting as more political theater than anything.
This is putting a huge target on our community. This will not bring jobs to our community.
Mayor Lisa Weakley
“It’s wholly political,” said State Sen. David Haley, a Democrat in neighboring Kansas City, Kan. “The town hall meeting is a political sideshow to help marginal incumbents get re-elected and to get people to forget about Brownback’s tax increase record.”
Haley said he had no worries about safety for Fort Leavenworth or the community.
“Leavenworth is secure enough to hold any potential detainees,” he said. “Some of the most dangerous people in our history have been housed there.”
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Brownback received notice that the U.S. Defense Department was surveying the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth and the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina to assess the possibility of housing Guantánamo detainees.
He teamed up last week for an impassioned “not in our backyard” protest with fellow Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. In a joint letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, they lashed out at the Obama administration, saying they would not be part of any “illegal and ill-advised action” that would “import terrorists into our states.”
He also told Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work he would fight the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to Kansas, joining state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Republican, in denouncing the idea.
I’m saying not in anybody’s backyard.
Gov. Sam Brownback
Fitzgerald said elected officials “must do everything in our power to ensure this does not happen.”
The purpose of the site visits to Leavenworth and South Carolina was to collect information on cost and facility requirements, Defense Department officials have said, and that no decisions had been made on housing detainees. Other facilities also were surveyed.
Federal law prohibits moving Guantánamo detainees to U.S. facilities.
Although President Obama has made it clear that closing Guantánamo was a priority for him, Congress passed a law in 2010 that banned detainees from the United States. One reported administration proposal would relocate about 60 detainees to the United States for prosecution or holding.
Kansas’ U.S. senators, both Republicans, have said they will have none of it.
Sen. Pat Roberts has said no terrorist will be housed in Kansas on his watch. Sen. Jerry Moran issued a statement after hearing about the site visits, calling Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo “reckless.”
“Terrorists should not be living down the road from Fort Leavenworth – home to thousands of Army soldiers and their families, as well as military personnel from across the globe who study at the Intellectual Center of the Army,” Moran said.