Pentagon team in Colorado in quest for ‘Guantánamo North’

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has three types of prisons at Florence, Colo., housing 2,661 inmates, 90 miles south of Denver.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has three types of prisons at Florence, Colo., housing 2,661 inmates, 90 miles south of Denver. Federal Bureau of Prisons video

A team of Pentagon officials began scouting sites in Colorado on Tuesday as potential alternatives to hold prisoners from Guantánamo Bay as part of the long-stalled effort to close the controversial detention center on the remote U.S. outpost in Cuba.

The Pentagon disclosed the plan to do the site survey earlier this month, drawing protest from state politicians and a guarded reaction from the governor, a Democrat.

On this week’s look-at list: The Federal Correctional Complex of three different prisons in Florence, including the so-called “supermax,” and the state penitentiary in Cañon City, said Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.

They are looking at what changes would be needed to the facilities in Colorado to detain a “limited” number of detainees from Guantánamo and to hold proceedings for those facing trial by military commission, Ross said.

The Pentagon prison currently holds 114 captives but Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has said the survey team is looking for a place to hold a smaller subset of that number. Because they are war prisoners, held by the U.S. military, they cannot be interspersed among federal or state prisoners and would instead need to be held in a separate U.S. military run lockup.

The state facility under consideration is empty, has 948 cells and costs the state $20 million a year.

Florence is best known for the maximum-security “supermax” penitentiary now holding 405 inmates, many of them convicted terrorists. Supermax prisoners include former Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani, 41, convicted of the East Africa embassies bombings; Ramzi Yousef, 47, the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, serving life for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; ‘Unibomber’ Ted Kaczynski, 73, and FBI agent turned spy Robert Hanssen, 71.

The Pentagon team earlier surveyed the Army’s Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Navy’s Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Barack Obama has sought to close Guantánamo since taking office but has been thwarted by Congress, which has banned transferring prisoners to the U.S. and placed restrictions on sending them abroad.

The Obama administration is seeking to lift the ban but faces opposition in Congress, including from members opposed to moving prisoners to their districts. Human rights groups and detainee advocates say they also object to continuing to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge at any location.

Of the 114 captives held at Guantánamo, 54 have been cleared for release. The rest include 10 men in military commission proceedings and those who have been determined by the government to be too dangerous to release but do not face charges.