The Pentagon notified Congress on Friday that it would be sending officials to Colorado to complete an assessment that could end in the relocation of detainees from the military detention center at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
The assessment was prompted by President Barack Obama’s plan to move the detainees and close the Guantánamo prison by the time he leaves office in 2017, something he had been promising to do throughout his presidential campaign.
According to CNBC, the Obama administration said the prison should be closed because it’s a symbol that only fuels anti-American sentiment, but also because it is more expensive to detain the prisoners in Cuba than it would be domestically.
The President signed executive orders to fulfill his plan in January, 2009.
The closing, however, cannot occur until a new location is found. One of the facilities up for consideration is a wing of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a complex in Florence, Colorado, that at present already holds numerous convicted terrorists. However, the military is also looking at a state penitentiary near the Federal facility.
The Federal Correctional Complex, located roughly 100 miles south of Denver, contains both high and medium-security facilities, as well as a maximum-security prison, known as a “Supermax,” which is typically reserved for the most dangerous detainees.
The Colorado Supermax already houses numerous terrorists who were sentenced to life for their involvement in U.S. attacks including “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Richard Reid, known as the shoe bomber. Both Abdulmutallab and Reid were convicted for trying to blow up passenger planes.
Also detained in the prison is “millennium bomber,” Ahmed Ressam, who attempted to smuggle explosives meant for an attack on Los Angeles International Airport.
Colorado is not the only state being considered for the relocation. Last month, site surveys were conducted at Fort Leavenworth’s army prison barracks in Kansas and at the naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, did confirm the visit to Colorado, but said 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. The facilities also will be assessed for their ability to serve as military commission sites.”
Even so, Colorado lawmakers have already begun to protest the assessment, some saying that a federal statute bars bringing the Guantánamo detainees on domestic soil.
“The people of Colorado do not want the world’s worst terrorists housed in our own backyard,” said Representative Doug Lamborn, a Republican whose district includes the federal prison complex. “It is outrageous and unacceptable for President Obama to waste time and taxpayer dollars on a dangerous fantasy that will go nowhere.”
Fox News reports that Guantánamo currently houses 114 detainees, but only 53 are eligible to be transferred to another country. The 61 detainees who remain have been deemed too dangerous to be released. Among the detainees are a handful of accused conspirators in the September 11 terrorist attack. The majority, however, are considered “wartime prisoners” and are accused of membership in al-Qaeda, but were not actively involved in any attack.
The President’s plan involves bringing those 61 detainees to one of the domestic sites being surveyed. He is also asking Congress to rescind the statute currently barring the transfer.
[Photo courtesy of Joe Raedle/ Getty Images]