Obama’s leaked plan to move Gitmo to either Fort Leavenworth in Kansas or the Standish state prison in northeastern Michigan has set off a fresh set of political battles over how to close down the detention facility. The Kansas congressional delegation firmly opposes the idea. “Enemy combatants should under no circumstances be housed at Fort Leavenworth,” Sen. Sam Brownback told the AP.
However, some key Michigan Democrats are more receptive to the plan—seeing an influx of detainees as a possible source of relief for a state hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. Because of a state budget squeeze, Michigan aims to close up to 8 state prisons, including Standish, whose prisoners are already being moved out of the facility. Michigan Democrats Rep. Bart Stupak and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin have both endorsed the idea, according to the Hill, with Stupak touting the notion as a means to save jobs and provide economic stimulus to the area. However, their GOP counterparts aren’t so enthusiastic: Pete Hoekstra, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, opposes the plan.
In January, former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius—now Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services—wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying that she supported shutting Gitmo down but opposed transferring the detainees to Leavenworth. Here were some of her arguments:
- If GTMO detainees are sent to Fort Leavenworth, it is likely that eminent domain would be used to obtain additional land around the Fort… Some of the land expected to be included in eminent domain is prime development land for the region…
- Fort Leavenworth currently does not have a medical facility, and it is estimated that it will take three to five years to build the required class three medical facilities for GTMO detainees. In the meantime, high risk detainees would be transported through the community to a nearby VA hospital. Based on past escape/break out experiences with the United States Penitentiary, this is an unacceptable risk to local citizens.
- The local airport is on Fort Leavenworth, and that airport will most likely no longer be available to local citizens. Furthermore, Congress granted a right of way to a rail line to pass through the installation more than 100 years ago, and today more than 50 trains a day use the line to transport goods to Omaha. Additionally, the river running through the Fort has commercial barge traffic. The airport, rail line and river traffic can become security risks, and making them inaccessible will significantly impact the economics of the area.