Not Ft. Leavenworth?

Our guest blogger is Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

sb.JPGHow to close Guantanamo is a very challenging and emotive issue that draws on the memories of 9/11 and justifiable anxieties about future terrorist attacks. One aspect of this saga that deserves to be addressed with rational analysis is the concern that locating some of the Guantanamo detainees within the territorial boundaries of the United States for incarceration is a dangerous risk that could pave the way for terrorist attacks on the homeland.

In my report released yesterday, I recommend that the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, among a few other possible locations, could imprison a small number of the Guantanamo detainees. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), reacted swiftly and harshly to that prospect, describing my analysis as “misleading and inaccurate” and asserting that “Fort Leavenworth has neither the space nor the security arrangements to handle detainees from Guantanamo Bay.”

This statement seems at odds with Ft. Leavenworth’s mission and “Can Do” motto. The Disciplinary Barracks is the only maximum security facility in the entire military prison system. While the old prison at Ft. Leavenworth was commonly referred to as “the Castle,” that stone and brick facility was replaced in 2002 by a “new state-of-the-art, 515-bed” detention center complete with a special housing unit for maximum security prisoners. The maximum security wing is isolated from the rest of the facility, three guards are assigned to each inmate, and every inch of the prison is covered by video surveillance.

Another possible location I identify is the brig at the Naval Base in Charleston, South Carolina. Although it is only a medium security facility, it has already been the home of designated enemy combatants Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi, and currently holds Ali Al-Marri. If Charleston, a lower security level facility, can accomplish that mission, it seems logical that Ft. Leavenworth could safely and securely imprison some of the Guantanamo detainees.

The number of detainees at issue here is relatively small, in the neighborhood of 50 detainees with the majority of those ending up at the “supermax” penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Sen. Brownback clearly believes that Ft. Leavenworth can not handle even a small number of Guantanamo detainees. He should know then, that the candidate he enthusiastically endorsed for president of the United States, Senator John McCain, has repeatedly pledged that he would close Guantanamo and move all of the approximately 270 remaining detainees to Ft. Leavenworth.

The real motivation for Sen. Brownback’s criticism of my report is probably not a belief that Ft. Leavenworth can not do the job, but more likely an attempt to prevent any Guantanamo detainees ending up in his home state of Kansas.

The risk of future attack on a prison holding convicted terrorists is never zero. Yet it would appear to be low because it seems unlikely that terrorists would choose to stage an attack on a secure military base in the heart of the United States, preferring instead much softer targets.

And there is no comparison of that level of threat to the ongoing risk that Americans endure precisely because of the existence of Guantanamo. Alberto J. Mora, Navy General Counsel from 2001 to 2006, told Congress last week that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”

Americans in uniform are dying because of Guantanamo. The men and women serving at Ft. Leavenworth could be a part of the solution that saves American lives. I believe Sen. Brownback owes them a fuller explanation of why he would deny them that opportunity.