Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bill would reassign Guantanamo prisoners to Fort Leavenworth

June 14, 2007

Politicians continue to refer to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth as the military prison of choice for detaining terrorist suspects now at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, recently introduced a bill that would close the Guantanamo prison and send the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth.

"We clearly believe Fort Leavenworth is prepared to handle these prisoners," said Jennifer Mullin, spokeswoman for Harkin. "It's clearly something they are used to."

The Kansas prison is the only military prison with the maximum-security designation. It is the only penal institution in continuous operation in the federal prison system and dates to 1875.

But the old maximum-security barracks, which held more than 1,000 prisoners, are gone. They were torn down when the new disciplinary barracks opened in 2002. The new barracks can hold 500 prisoners and the daily inmate population is about 450, said Janet Wray, Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman.

In early June, there were about 480 detainees at Guantanamo, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a public Web site that carries information about military and defense systems.

Wray referred questions about whether Fort Leavenworth was preparing for Guantanamo prisoners to the Department of Army in Washington, D.C. A spokesman there would say only that there is no "course of action" on Guantanamo and that it is "not part of BRAC," referring to the commission that recommends military base closures and realignments.

If Guantanamo closed, Mullin said not all of the prisoners would have to go to Fort Leavenworth. She said many prisoners could be released if federal charges were not filed.

"Restoring habeas corpus is a big part of this bill," Mullin said, referring to the legal process that safeguards against detaining someone without a legal reason. "It wouldn't be likely that all of them will be charged."

Harkin is seeking co-sponsors for his bill, which he introduced a couple of weeks ago.

Other Washington politicians also have talked of sending Guantanamo prisoners to Fort Leavenworth. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., mentioned it as a possible site in March when he recommended Congress cut funding for Guantanamo. Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain also said he favored detaining terror suspects at Fort Leavenworth instead of Guantanamo.

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