Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From Guantanamo Bay to Standish Max

Gordon Cucullu, author of Inside Gitmo, published earlier this year, has been busily updating his Inside Gitmo Blog which you should keep an eye on if you're interested in the subject of what happens to Guantanamo.

Cucullu has been keeping up with the reports that Guantanamo detainees may be moved to Standish Max Correctional Facility in Michigan. He recently toured the facility along with terrorism expert Dr. Peter Leitner.

The debate over bringing the detainees to Standish has been heating up over the past few weeks. It's not a "done deal" that Standish will be used; the idea was floated a while back, then taken off the table, and now talk is up again. The local population does not necessarily support the idea. In a column for the New York Post last week, Cucullu reports "The Arenac County Board of Commissioners last week voted 4-1 in favor of taking detainees -- but the Standish City Council couldn't even make quorum when it met to discuss the issues. And the three council members who expressed support for the idea indicated that they'd rather just take normal prisoners from other states."

Earlier this summer it was announced that Standish Max would close as part of a reorganization by the Michigan Department of Corrections. This would result in a loss of jobs for about 350 people. But questions are being asked as to whether bringing Gitmo detainees there is the best way to offset this economic quagmire. Many of the locals have safety concerns:

Standish resident Dave Munson, who has been spearheading the anti-Gitmo transfer movement in Standish, said the city needed to look at more than just money and think about who would be held in Guantanamo Bay.

“These guys are not soldiers, they’re enemy,” he said. “We shouldn’t treat them as equals. … They haven’t earned the right to step on our soil. We are a tourism county, not a terrorism county.”

Cuclullu and his terrorism expert looked at the security issues and found some points of concern:

Under normal circumstances this would be a proper maximum security facility. Designed effectively to keep prisoners in, not focused on potential outside threats.

The reasonable assessment is that Standish Max is highly vulnerable to attacks from outside. Even a small suicide bomber igniting the propane tank would be a disaster. A truck filled with ammonium nitrate explosive, al Qaeda’s weapon of choice, would yield catastrophic results.

Politico posted an article that suggests Standish residents are supportive of the Gitmo transfer, but in fact the resolution that the city council voted on was simply to offer Standish for the "detainment of current Federal prisoners held in Federal facilities" without specifying those future prisoners as Gitmo prisoners. There is no agreement that they necessarily want those prisoners to be from Gitmo.

The Detroit Free Press puts it this way:

Instead of passing resolutions supporting the transfer of detainees, the council, faced with job losses when a state prison closes this month, voted to encourage the state to find prisoners from other states or the U.S. government to transfer prisoners to the facility.

The unanimous vote doesn't preclude the transfer of the Guantánamo prisoners to the soon-to-be-closed Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, but removed all references to the terror detainees from the resolution.

So what's the answer? Well, if you ask Peter Finn of the Washington Post, maybe the best answer is to just leave them where they are:

For up to four hours a day, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, can sit outside in the Caribbean sun and chat through a chain-link fence with the detainee in the neighboring exercise yard at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mohammed can also use that time to visit a media room to watch movies of his choice, read newspapers and books, or play handheld electronic games. He and other detainees have access to elliptical machines and stationary bikes.

Yet, if transferred to a Federal facility, such as Standish Max or the prison in Florence, Colorado:

If sent to a facility such as the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo., they would be sealed off for 23 hours a day in cells with four-inch-wide windows and concrete furniture. If they behave, and are allowed an hour's exercise each day in a tiny yard, they will do so alone. They will have little or no human contact except with prison officials. And the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only outside group with access to Camp 7, will no longer have contact with them.

Now the ball is in the President's court. Will the ill-conceived campaign promise to close Guantanamo be more important than the security concerns of taxpaying American citizens? Will the Gitmo guys end up at Standish or some other Federal facility? What will Eric Holder's Justice Department conclude? Any bets?


David said...

Isn't this the heart of Islam in the US? If so, how will you tell the difference between the inmates and the regular citizens.

jason said...

Cool! thanks for that info. I looked and looked for someone who shared the same opinions and finally found it on your post. Thanks!

Becky said...

As someone who lives close by, we are not the heart of American Islam, but Detroit (the home of the largest Muslim population in the US) is only a couple of hours away by car straight on I-75. That is a concern here.

Stupak is the rep that was open to the idea, is Standish's rep, and he lives geographically further away from the prison, than Hoekstra, who objects. Get out a map. Stupak resides in the upper pennisula, and Hoekstra in the lower.Stupak is less personally effected than the other reps. Much of northern Michigan is rural with high unemployment. Stupak is the rep for a large geographic area.
Granholm, who lives closer also to Standish than Stupak, isn't so keen on the idea either.

Standish is rural, not anything like David may imagine. Outside of the heavy auto areas, and even in them, like Bay County, most people are actually conservative. If you look at an electoral map, the red areas are usually heavy union.

Michigan is not Detroit, but Detroit thinks so, and so do much of the rest of the country.