Fate of Guantanamo Bay detainees raises questions

The Kansas City StarFebruary 23, 2009 

The fate of the terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay could hardly pose a knottier mix of legal and political issues.

Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to visit the offshore detention facility today with other Justice Department officials, the beginning of a process to figure out what to do with the men held there.

The legal issues are far from simple. But as a logistical matter, locking the detainees up is rather easy.

Human rights advocates and corrections analysts say this country can absorb them into its prisons with ease. America knows something about prisons. It locks up more than seven in 1,000 Americans — more than any other country. Escapes from maximum-security prisons are almost unheard of.

"It kind of puzzles me why people are so concerned about this population. It's a small group. There's tons of space," said James Austin, a prison consultant with JFA Institute in Washington. "Is it going to be hard to care for these people and transport them? No. This happens all the time."

While Kansas politicians protest the idea of using the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, prison experts question why any new quarters for the 100-plus detainees have to be a military prison or brig.

They point to Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, at the ADX supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo.

"It's a mistake to think of this as a new or unprecedented problem," said David Fathi of Human Rights Watch. "We've convicted people in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the embassy bombings in Africa. We've done this before."

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