Still no place to go for Gitmo’s detainees
President Obama isn’t finding any takers in the U.S. to house the terrorism detainees now being held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr. Obama is determined to close the facility in January, repeating his pledge in his June 4 speech in Cairo on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. But even in states whose senators say they support closing the prison and bringing the detainees to the United States, local officials are balking.
“The answer to that is no. We are an overcrowded system,” said Vermont Corrections Department Commissioner Andrew Pallito. Both of the state’s U.S. senators, Democrat Patrick J. Leahy and independent Bernard Sanders, support the idea of shipping some of the suspected terrorists to maximum-security prisons in the United States.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, said bringing detainees to her state was not on the agenda, despite a slew of abandoned prisons. “This is not something that we are pursuing. End of story,” said Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Granholm, an ally of Mr. Obama’s who made the shortlist for the recent Supreme Court vacancy.
This resistance underscores the difficulty Mr. Obama confronts in keeping his promise to close Guantanamo.
The president already has encountered a revolt on Capitol Hill. Democrats in both the House and Senate balked at his request for $81 million to close the facility, joining Republicans in voting to withhold the money until Mr. Obama says what he would do with the 240 terrorism suspects in Guantanamo.
A Justice Department task force continues to wrestle with where to send detainees — most foreign governments do not want them — and which detainees can be prosecuted in the United States, either in federal courts or in military tribunals. The task force report is due late next month.
Nearly all of the governors’ offices contacted by The Washington Times took days or in some cases more than a week to respond to questions about their willingness to take in what have been described as “the most dangerous terrorists in the world.” None answered yes. After repeated inquiries, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, opted for a “no comment” about housing detainees.
His state’s senior U.S. senator, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, voted last month to approve the money to shut down Guantanamo.
Mr. Durbin was among six senators — all Democrats — to support the funding, which Mr. Obama requested as part of a roughly $100 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now nearing passage.
Mr. Obama now will have to look for the Guantanamo money in the regular appropriations bill that Democratic leaders hope to finish by September — just four months before his deadline to shut down the camp.
But a House Appropriations subcommittee taking up the fiscal 2010 spending bill June 4 voted to include restrictions on releasing or transferring Guantanamo detainees and omitted $60 million that Mr. Obama requested.
The other two governors whose U.S. senators voted to fund the president’s plan also gave cool receptions to the prospect of accepting Guantanamo detainees.
Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, said he unequivocally opposed the idea of bringing detainees to his state. Both of the state’s U.S. senators, Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, supported the president’s request.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, did not take a position because the state was an unlikely detainee destination, spokesman Troy Price said.
“We have no federal prisons, so I’m not sure that it would be possible to transfer prisoners here,” he said.
The administration has not publicly identified where it wants to relocate the detainees, but even speculation about facilities has been met with swift disapproval from local officials.
Among the most often mentioned sites are three in Virginia — the detention center for federal inmates in Alexandria, the Norfolk Navy Brig and the Marine Corps Base at Quantico.
The candidates in the Virginia governor’s race sharply criticized suggestions of detainee relocation to their state.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who also is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, stopped short of endorsing the proposal.
“He supports Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo in a timely fashion, and has every confidence in the Marines and the Navy to handle whatever comes their way,” Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said.
A move to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., also mentioned as a destination, got an unequivocal “no” from Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, had “no comment” when asked about whether he wanted Guantanamo Bay prisoners brought to his state, despite reports that Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in Southern California is under consideration.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor would not stake a position until the White House presents a detailed plan.
An Associated Press poll released June 3 showed that 47 percent of adults approve of closing Guantanamo, while 47 percent disapprove. The divide follows party lines, with most Democrats approving, most Republicans disapproving and independents evenly split.
Don’t send them to us: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn