Gitmo de­bate goes to heart­land

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY MATTHEW MOSK

Crit­ics warned Dec. 15 that a White House plan to move as many as 100 ter­ror­ism sus­pects from the Guan­tanamo Bay de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity to a prison in Illi­nois could cre­ate a new se­cu­rity risk in the Amer­i­can heart­land, but the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­missed the con­cerns as “scare tac­tics and hy­per­bole.”

The an­nounce­ment that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment would pur­chase the un­der­used prison com­plex in Thom­son, Ill., opened a new chap­ter in the de­bate over the fu­ture of scores of de­tainees who have been con­fined in le­gal limbo.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the pur­chase of the prison, which was built in 2001 for $145 mil­lion, would re­solve the most vex­ing po­lit­i­cal ques­tion sur­round­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s pledge to shut down the de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity at U.S. Naval Base Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba — find­ing a se­cure place to put the world’s most danger­ous ter­ror­ists.

“This will be the most se­cure fa­cil­ity of all time,” said Illi­nois Gov. Pat Quinn.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it was im­por­tant to “sep­a­rate what might be le­git­i­mate con­cern with what is noth­ing more than scare tac­tics and hy­per­bole that we haven’t seen in quite some time, even in a glo­ri­ous town like Wash­ing­ton.”

But a num­ber of top con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans warned that mov­ing the Guan­tanamo de­tainees to the main­land poses ma­jor le­gal, se­cu­rity and lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems.

“By mov­ing known ter­ror­ists to Amer­i­can soil, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is putting in­ter­na­tional pub­lic re­la­tions ahead of pub­lic safety,” said Rep. Mike Pence, In­di­ana Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence.

“How does clos­ing Guan­tanamo Bay make us safer?” he asked. “How does mov­ing over 70 known ter­ror­ists to a fa­cil­ity in my beloved heart­land of this coun­try make our fam­i­lies more safe? And how does it even make sense?”

Mr. Quinn es­ti­mated that once the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pur­chases the prison from the state, a trans­ac­tion that has yet to be ne­go­ti­ated, roughly 1,500 fed­eral in­mates would be housed there and about 100 ter­ror­ism sus­pects would be seg­re­gated in a sep­a­rate wing that would be overseen by mil­i­tary guards.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser James L. Jones said the trans­fer would en­able the pres­i­dent to close Guan­tanamo, a move he said would make the U.S. safer and solve a “na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue of the high­est or­der.”

“In tak­ing this action, we are re­mov­ing from ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world a re­cruit­ing tool,” Mr. Jones said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, ap­plauded the se­lec­tion of the Thom­son site. He said the move was sup­ported by na­tional se­cu­rity an­a­lysts and by more than 30 mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils and cham­bers of com­merce in his state.

Their sup­port, he said, was largely be­cause of the es­ti­mated 3,000 jobs that would be cre­ated

“By mov­ing known ter­ror­ists to Amer­i­can soil, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is putting in­ter­na­tional pub­lic re­la­tions ahead of pub­lic safety,” said Rep. Mike Pence, In­di­ana Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence.

by the place­ment of a max­i­mum­se­cu­rity prison in a re­gion of his state that has more than 11 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment.

Such a move has long di­vided Capi­tol Hill. Even some Democrats have ques­tioned the readi­ness of the Jus­tice Depart­ment to han­dle the shift.

Speak­ing on the House floor on Dec. 15, Mr. Pence said he was “as­ton­ished” by the de­ci­sion.

House Repub­li­can Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, ac­cused the pres­i­dent of putting lib­eral spe­cial-in­ter­est groups ahead of the safety and se­cu­rity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple don’t want danger­ous ter­ror­ists im­ported onto U.S. soil,” he said.

When asked about Mr. Boehner’s re­marks, Mr. Gibbs ap­peared an­noyed.

“Here’s what I would sug­gest for John Boehner. Call up [CIA Di­rec­tor] Leon Panetta or [Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence] Denny Blair,” he said. “Ask them if he can come down and watch a video put out by al Qaeda se­nior lead­er­ship. [. . . ] Thirty-two times since 2001 and four times this year alone, se­nior al Qaeda lead­er­ship in re­cruit­ing videos have used the prison at Guan­tanamo Bay as a clar­ion call to bring ex­trem­ists from around the world to join their ef­fort.”

“Clos­ing Guan­tanamo Bay makes this coun­try safer,” he said.

Op­po­nents of a Guan­tanamo de­tainee move to an empty max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison in ru­ral Stan­dish, Mich., ex­pressed re­lief upon learn­ing that the pris­on­ers would not be com­ing to their state. But they also were dis­mayed that the White House would con­sider bring­ing the de­tainees any­where on U.S. soil.

“It doesn’t change the fact that it’s not good for our coun­try,” said Stan­dish busi­ness­man Dave Mun­son, who ran a write-in cam­paign for mayor as the pris­on­er­trans­fer is­sue bit­terly di­vided res­i­dents of his small town. “Th­ese peo­ple don’t be­long here,” he said.

Stan­dish emerged as a pos­si­ble re­lo­ca­tion site when Mayor Kevin King pro­posed us­ing the Stan­dish Max­i­mum Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, a ma­jor source of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity for his town that is sched­uled to close.

Mr. Mun­son had worked since Au­gust to block the de­tainees from com­ing to Stan­dish, fear­ing their pres­ence would cre­ate se­cu­rity risks. He noted the prox­im­ity to the U.S. bor­der and to the na­tion’s largest Is­lamic pop­u­la­tion, in Dear­born, near Detroit, less than 150 miles away.

The re­cep­tion has been more wel­com­ing in Thom­son, near the Illi­nois bor­der with Iowa, in the north­west­ern cor­ner of the state.

The town, which calls it­self “the Melon Cap­i­tal of the World” be­cause of its wa­ter­melon crop, and its roughly 550 res­i­dents have re­mained stuck in hard times.

Res­i­dents say that bring­ing the Guan­tanamo de­tainees to the prison will give the econ­omy a des­per­ately needed boost.

That boost was ex­pected when the Thom­son Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter was built in 2001, but the prison never fully opened and the promised jobs never ar­rived.

“We’ve strug­gled for nine years, and it’s truly been a strug­gle,” said Donna Opheim, man­ager of the Sta­tion, a din­ner and truck stop in Thom­son.

Ms. Opheim said the de­ci­sion to bring the Guan­tanamo de­tainees to Thom­son is “the best news I’ve heard in a long time.”

Dawn Burkholder, owner of Dawn’s Orig­i­nal Groom­ing, a pet­groom­ing busi­ness in Thom­son, agreed.

“This is go­ing to be a good thing,” she said dur­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times. “I think it’s go­ing to cre­ate a lot of lit­tle jobs that are be­hind the scenes that we don’t see.”

Nei­ther woman ex­pressed any fears about safety.

“I’m not con­cerned,” Ms. Burkholder said. “I think the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will take care of that.”

Ben Conery, An­drea Billups and Stephen Dinan con­trib­uted to this re­port.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The White House plans to buy the Thom­son Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Thom­son , Ill., to house as many of 100 ter­ror­ism sus­pects be­ing held at the de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

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