Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that she opposes any effort to move some 250 suspected terrorists being housed at Guantanamo Bay to Kansas and calls the entire detainee process “a huge black eye” for the United States.
“We’ve got to discontinue the use of Guantanamo Bay,” the Kansas Democrat said. “I gotta tell you, I think it gives the world a real question about how America values our democratic principles. It seems to violate everything our Founding Fathers said in the first place.”
Sebelius said she supports the proposal by President-elect Barack Obama to shutter the Guantanamo prison and transfer those operations elsewhere. While she does not want the prisoners moved to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, she did not offer a possible alternative.
The governor said she has not spoken with President George W. Bush or Obama about detainees. However, her input could hold some sway with the next administration, given her role as a surrogate for Obama during the campaign and status as a potential Cabinet appointee.
The Kansas military prison is believed to be on a short list of sites under consideration, along with a Navy brig in South Carolina and Marine facility in Southern California.
“I don’t have to want them in Kansas,” Sebelius said. “Closing Guantanamo Bay doesn’t mean the prisoners come to the heartland of America. I think we need to find the appropriate place to house those detainees.
“It’s not just where you house them, but the whole issue of treatment.”
A Department of Defense spokeswoman declined to comment about the status of closing Guantanamo. Previously, the Pentagon has said several options were being considered.
Sen. Sam Brownback also opposes moving detainees to Kansas and introduced a bill in December that would block the use of any federal funds to move them to Fort Leavenworth. He will refile that bill in the coming days. The Kansas Republican also plans to talk with military leaders about the issue.
“I have requested a meeting with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. (Michael) Mullen, to discuss this issue further, and to express my firm belief that if Guantanamo Bay is closed, a new facility designed to handle detainees should be built,” Brownback said in a written statement Wednesday.
Brownback’s office said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sent a team to Fort Leavenworth to survey the post last month. Along with military prison, Fort Leavenworth is the home of the Army’s Command and General Staff College, which Brownback maintains makes the post’s primary mission incompatible with detainee operations.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican whose district includes Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley, filed a bill similar to Brownback’s proposal on Wednesday, a day after she took office. Last year, South Carolina Democrat Rep. Henry Brown filed a measure to keep detainees out of his state.