Put Gitmo detainees where?

Not Fort Leavenworth, as both Kansas Senators made plain yesterday in a letter to their colleagues.  Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts push back against the oft-repeated suggestion that the US can relocate the detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the detention barracks of Leavenworth, declaring the facility unfit for such a mission on several levels.  The only place that meets security conditions won’t work because of its civilian mission:

In a Senate-wide appeal, two Kansas senators released a letter Wednesday urging fellow lawmakers to abandon a bipartisan idea of moving at least some Guantanamo detainees to Fort Leavenworth, the Kansas Army base that houses the military’s largest prison facility.

The letter puts Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans, squarely at odds with their party’s presumptive presidential cnadidate, John McCain, who has told numerous interviewers in recent months that he favors closing Guantanamo and moving the detainees to Fort Leavenworth.

“Not all prisons are created equal,” Brownback and Roberts wrote in their appeal. The prison facility at Fort Leavenworth “is not equipped to perform this mission.”

Members of Congress from both parties have long suggested Fort Leavenworth as an alternative to the sprawling prison camp compound in Guantanamo, which today holds 270 war-on-terror captives.

Both presidential candidates have made clear their desire to close Gitmo, and John McCain has specified Leavenworth as a potential destination.  Barack Obama has been less specific, but has implied that the terrorists would get transferred to an American military compound once Gitmo closes.  However, even the commander of Fort Leavenworth — the top of the line for military detention facilities — declares it unfit, which calls into question whether any place exists in the military system within the US.

Leavenworth houses those convicted of serious crimes while in uniform, but these prisoners are not considered nationa-security risks.  The prison has the normal maximum-security safeguards against escape and breakout, but not against the kind of terrorist risk the detainees pose.  Leavenworth also doesn’t have the room nor the extra personnel needed to secure the terrorists.  The commander also objects to keeping foreign terrorists in close proximity to the American military prisoners already housed there.

Another consideration is medical care.  Leavenworth usually transports its prisoners to the hospital in the city, as it lacks medical facilities on the base.  Do we want terrorists to get carted out of prison and through American cities to get CAT scans?  The potential for escape or sabotage should keep Leavenworth off the list entirely.

So where can we put them?  The Supermax facility in Colorado is much more suited to the task, but it’s a federal detention facility, not military.  Prisoners cannot be held there without being convicted of a crime, which would add even more legal complications to their detention.  Congress would have to pass legislation to allow it, and the Supreme Court could ignore it just as it did with Boumediene.

Roberts and Brownback have invited the Senate to take a tour of Leavenworth to see the problems inherent in such a transfer.  Perhaps McCain and Obama should make sure they accept that invitation.