Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

Democrats eye Fort Leavenworth for detainees

March 15, 2007

— If terrorist suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are brought to the United States, some of them might be taken to the prison at Fort Leavenworth, congressional Democratic leaders say.

"One thought is to put them in military brigs," said Austin Durrer, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. "There were some names thrown out there just as examples, but there are no plans to bring them there."

In addition to Fort Leavenworth, among the other sites named were Quantico, Va., and Charleston, S.C.

Military commanders at Fort Leavenworth have not received official word to prepare for Guantanamo detainees, spokeswoman Janet Wray said. She noted the fort's old disciplinary barracks, which held 1,300 inmates, was torn down a few years ago and a new, smaller prison was built. It can hold up to 500 inmates. The daily inmate population usually hovers around 450, Wray said.

"If the decision is made that they are coming to Fort Leavenworth, then we'll have to accommodate," she said. "It depends on how many we're talking about."

Fort Leavenworth has the military's only maximum-security prison. The fort also has a courtroom but it is not at the prison, Wray said.

New sites for housing the detainees came up recently, when Moran recommended Congress cut funding to the Guantanamo detention center at the end of 2008. Moran heads an investigation of Guantanamo for the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

"We're working on a policy proposal to shut down Guantanamo Bay through a defense appropriations bill, and then we'd ask the president and the Department of Defense to come up with a plan as to where to house those detainees," Durrer said.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., visited Fort Leavenworth a few weeks ago but the subject of Guantanamo detainees being held there did not come up, she said.

"Right now it's just rumor, but sometimes rumors become reality, too," Boyda said.

In an area noted for its infamous behind-bars residents, moving the detainees to the fort probably wouldn't cause much of a stir among local folks, said Connie Hatchenberg, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Leavenworth.

"There are always going to be some folks who are upset by it, but we have a lot of prisoners here," Hatchenberg said.

In addition to the fort's prison, the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth is just down the street and about 10 miles to the south is Lansing Correctional Facility, the state's largest maximum-security prison.

Hatchenberg uses the prisons as a marketing hook for tourists. She sometimes gets calls from people asking about the prisons. Many people probably don't realize there is a difference between the military and federal prisons, she said.

"The federal penitentiary is a very ominous structure and it is historic," Hatchenberg said. "It's worth driving by, and then the idea is that if they are coming to see the prison, they will discover that this is a cute, quaint little community and spend a little more time here."

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