U.S. citizens in two states may become neighbors of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the Defense Department is again eyeing a Kansas military prison and a South Carolina naval brig as options to relocate some of the remaining 116 Gitmo detainees.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis, a Navy captain, said a team was examining the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth and also would evaluate the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston this month, according to the AP.
The closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama, who pledged on his first day in office to shut it down. But that effort has faced persistent hurdles, including staunch opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress and ongoing difficulties transferring out the dozens of detainees who have been cleared to leave.
Officials have to identify countries to take the detainees and must get assurances that they will be appropriately monitored and will not pose a security threat.
About 52 of the 116 current detainees have been cleared for release, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his predecessors have made it clear they will not release any detainees until they have all the needed security assurances. The remaining 64 have been deemed too dangerous to be released.
The latest surveys come a week after a draft Pentagon plan to provide potential locations for the detainees was stymied when the administration said the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois was off the table, according to officials. The draft plan had focused largely on Thomson and Charleston, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The officials said that early versions of the Pentagon report had made it clear that Thomson and Charleston were the most viable choices based on costs and the timeline needed to renovate the facilities to the maximum security levels required. Officials have acknowledged, however, that there were divisions within the Pentagon and across the administration over which military and federal facilities to highlight and how many options to assess and include in the report.
The idea of bringing these terrorists onto the mainland is facing ferocious opposition, particularly from Kansas legislators who vehemently oppose the idea, the AP reported.
Both the House and Senate versions of the 2016 defense policy bill would maintain prohibitions on transferring detainees to U.S. facilities. The Senate legislation, however, says the restrictions could be lifted if the White House submits a plan to close the facility and the plan is approved by Congress. House and Senate negotiators are working to reconcile the two bills.
Lawmakers from Kansas on Friday quickly denounced the survey.
In a letter to Carter, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he has consistently objected “to the idea of moving these terrorists to the mainland, and more especially to Kansas. I will continue to be a vocal and staunch advocate against closing our current detainment facilities due to the high security risks and economic waste doing so would cost the American public.”
He said Leavenworth is not the right location because it sits on the Missouri River, “providing terrorists with the possibility of covert travel underwater and attempting access to the detention facility.”
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said:
“Terrorists should not be living down the road from Fort Leavenworth — home to thousands of Army soldiers and their families, as well as military personnel from across the globe who study at the Intellectual Center of the Army.”
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