Washington, D.C Kansas’ U.S. senators, who insisted that Guantanamo detainees were unwelcome at Fort Leavenworth, have been told by the Obama administration that the prisoners are likely headed elsewhere.
In return, the lawmakers said Wednesday that they would stop blocking President Barack Obama’s nominees for senior posts at the Pentagon and Justice Department.
Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, both Republicans, had been standing in the way of the confirmation of New York Republican Rep. John McHugh for Army secretary and of nominees before the Senate for other senior Defense and Justice Department positions. A single senator can delay action on a bill or nomination by placing “holds” on them and blocking them from advancing in the legislative process.
The two senators said they have been meeting with administration officials to explain the “obstacles and challenges” of moving Guantanamo detainees to the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth as well as expressing the concerns from residents.
“We had discussions with several administration officials and they indicated to both myself and Sen. Roberts that Leavenworth was not a suitable site for detainees,” Brownback said.
Obama’s administration wants to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay by a self-imposed deadline in January. It has been wrestling with legal questions on how to prosecute and where to house the 226 suspected al-Qaida, Taliban and foreign fighters held at the military prison in Cuba.
The administration, meanwhile, is seeking another two-month delay in a handful of key military commission trials of detainees. The previous delay granted in six cases ends Thursday, but a congressional staff member and a Defense Department official, who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, said the administration was about to ask the judges in those cases to grant a 60-day extension.
The Kansas senators’ certainty that the detainees were headed somewhere else raises questions about whether the administration has chosen to house them in Michigan. A maximum security prison in Standish, Mich., has also been considered a possible location. Some officials in Michigan had wanted the detainees because of the need for jobs.
Federal and state officials visited the maximum-security prison in Standish last month to determine whether it was suitable for holding the detainees.
Brownback said administration officials told him the detainees would go only to a place where the community would accept them, “and clearly Leavenworth and the state of Kansas doesn’t want detainees.”
He said foreign countries that send students to Fort Leavenworth’s Command General Staff College don’t want them trained at the same site as the detainees.
“Those two issues seemed to be playing high in the administration’s review,” Brownback said.
Post spokeswoman Becky Steed declined to comment Wednesday, referring questions to the Pentagon and White House.
But Leavenworth City Manager Scott Miller said the biggest concern for local officials was that bringing the detainees to the post would change its mission and hurt the war college.
“If the terrorists were brought here, does that mission change, does that perception of Fort Leavenworth change?” he said. “We think it would.”
As for safety issues, Miller noted that the post is home to a military prison and the city, a federal prison. Nearby Lansing is home to the state’s oldest maximum-security prison.
“We can deal with prisoners. That doesn’t scare us,” he said.
Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson appeared ready to declare the issue resolved for his state.
“I am glad that our congressional delegation has come to this conclusion and we can now put this issue behind us,” Parkinson said.