Fort Leavenworth Sen. Sam Brownback said Thursday that any effort by the federal government to move detainees from Guantanamo Bay to a military prison in Kansas would be physically and legally impossible.
Brownback raised the concerns about discussions to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and transfer all or some of the nearly 250 detainees to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
Such a move would violate federal law on housing soldiers near enemy prisoners of war, the Republican senator said at a news conference.
“This is a big, tough issue. There are ways to handle it, just not here,” Brownback said.
Brownback said he planned to file legislation soon to block moving the detainees — some of whom have been held for several years — to Fort Leavenworth. He said he does not support closing Guantanamo, especially without a facility specifically designed to handle the detainees for extended periods.
Fort Leavenworth, founded in 1827 on the western banks of the Missouri River, is home to the Army’s Command and General Staff College and to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. Some in Congress and elsewhere have called for Guantanamo’s closure and transferring detainees to the prison.
Six federal and state prisons, including the military barracks, are in and around the city of Leavenworth.
President-elect Barack Obama’s advisers are developing plans to close Guantanamo Bay, release some detainees and bring others to the United States to face trial. What hasn’t been answered is what to do with detainees who could not be released or prosecuted in criminal courts.
Brownback said Obama’s transition team should travel to Kansas to see the Army post before making any recommendations.
“Force-fitting the detainee population in existing and ill-equipped facilities creates more security, legal and infrastructure problems than we can solve,” Brownback said.
No one from Fort Leavenworth spoke to reporters at the news conference about moving the detainees. All questions were referred to Army headquarters, which passed questions on to the office of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Spokesman Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said no decision had been made regarding the detainees.
“The Defense Department continually plans for a wide variety of contingencies; however, we do not discuss specifics of such plans,” Gordon said.
Gordon said deciding what to do with the Guantanamo detainees raises “complex issues.”
“Some courses of action may require the involvement of additional legislative authorities,” Gordon said. “Ultimately, we are dealing with very dangerous unlawful enemy combatants who we believe wish to do harm to the United States and our allies.”
The disciplinary barracks house about 450 prisoners. The facility is rated at minimum security, with one section of about 80 cells for maximum security, including those under sentence of death.
Fort Leavenworth lacks a 24-hour hospital. Any medical emergencies would require taking the detainees for treatment in Leavenworth or nearby Lansing or flying them to a hospital in the Kansas City metropolitan area, roughly 20 miles to the east.
Several Leavenworth city officials joined Brownback and U.S. Rep.-elect Lynn Jenkins at Thursday’s event, vowing to fight to keep the detainees out.
“They don’t want this to happen here,” said Brownback, although he added that fear wasn’t the factor driving his opposition.
Leavenworth Mayor Lisa Weakley said the city lacked the resources to provide the extra security she said would be needed to protect the community with the detainees at the military post.
During a driving tour of Fort Leavenworth, Brownback noted that the post covers roughly 5,000 acres and sits adjacent to the Missouri River, which is prone to flooding.
The post is home to several hundred school-aged children who attend three elementary schools and one junior high. There is no perimeter fence surrounding the post, where the core missions are educating the military’s majors and writing doctrine.
Brownback said his legislation would be similar to a House bill introduced last month by Democratic Rep. Henry Brown of South Carolina, who wants to block any transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston.