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US studies moving Guantanamo detainees to Colorado prison

The Pentagon on Friday notified Congress that it would send officials to Colorado to assess whether a wing of the federal Bureau of Prisons complex in Florence that holds numerous convicted terrorists or a nearby state penitentiary that is nearly empty could be used to house detainees from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The idea prompted an immediate pushback from Colorado lawmakers, who noted that a federal statute bars bringing such detainees onto domestic soil.

The planned visit is part of an attempt to develop options for relocating detainees from the prison, which President Obama wants to close before he leaves office in 2017. Last month, the military conducted site surveys at the naval brig in Charleston, S.C., and the army prison barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

A military officer stands near the entrance to Camp VI at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
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A military officer stands near the entrance to Camp VI at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"It is outrageous and unacceptable for President Obama to waste time and taxpayer dollars on a dangerous fantasy that will go nowhere," Representative Doug Lamborn, a Republican whose district includes the federal prison complex, said in a statement. "The people of Colorado do not want the world's worst terrorists housed in our own backyard."

Located about 100 miles south of Denver, the Federal Correctional Complex contains a medium-security facility, a high-security prison and the so-called Supermax for the most dangerous inmates. The Supermax houses a number of Qaeda terrorists who were sentenced to life in prison after a civilian trial for involvement in specific attacks.

They include the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and the "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, each of whom tried to blow up passenger planes; the millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who was caught at the Canadian border trying to smuggle explosives to attack Los Angeles International Airport; and Ahmed Ghailani, a former Guantánamo detainee who helped plot Al Qaeda's 1998 embassy bombings in Africa.

A handful of the detainees at Guantánamo have also been accused of involvement in specific attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The majority are accused of membership in Al Qaeda but not involvement in any attack, and are being held as wartime prisoners.

A group of detainees kneel during an Islamic prayer at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' in Guantanamo Bay.
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A group of detainees kneel during an Islamic prayer at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' in Guantanamo Bay.

Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed the visit to Colorado, while stressing that no sites had been selected.

"The assessment team will meet with facility staff to discuss the existing facilities, engineering considerations, force protection, troop housing, security, transportation, information security, contracting and other operational issues," he said. "The facilities also will be assessed for their ability to serve as military commission sites."

Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, declared last month that Florence should not be on the table as a Guantánamo replacement because bringing detainees there would endanger "the safety and security of Coloradans," and he reiterated that position on Friday.

"I remain opposed to any plan to bring Guantánamo terrorists to Colorado," he said in a statement. "I call on the Obama administration to immediately halt any consideration of this irresponsible idea."

Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for the state's other senator, Michael Bennet, a Democrat, also expressed wariness.

"The Department of Defense has no authority to transfer these prisoners or make such modifications, and they have made no case to do so," he said.

From the New York Times:

The administration says the Guantánamo prison should be closed because it is a symbol that fuels anti-American sentiment and because it is far more expensive to house a detainee there than in a domestic prison.

Mr. Obama's plan to close the prison involves transferring the 53 detainees who have been recommended for release if security conditions can be met in the receiving country, and bringing the remaining 61 detainees to a prison on domestic soil. He has urged Congress to rescind the statute that bars transferring any detainees into the United States, but a pending military authorization bill would instead extend it.

The bill would also mandate that the administration provide a "plan" to Congress for closing the prison. It had promised this year to give one to Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but has not yet done so.