Obama: Moving Guantanamo inmates won't harm U.S. towns

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 11, 2009 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he would never put communities like Leavenworth, Kan., at risk in deciding where to relocate prisoners once the Guantanamo detention camp is closed.

Leavenworth — "where my mother was born, by the way," Obama said — is the home of Fort Leavenworth, site of a military prison and one of several places under consideration as a replacement for the camp.

"We would never put people into a situation that elevated the risks for surrounding communities," the president said during an interview at the White House with McClatchy and several other journalists. "That would obviously be something we would take very seriously as we make these decisions."

The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth is one of several military prisons being talked about as a replacement for the Guantanamo Bay detention center, now that the administration is set on closing it.

The others include the U.S. Marines' Camp Pendleton near San Diego and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C.

The drive to shut down Guantanamo within a year gained more momentum Tuesday. The administration is expected to name Dan Fried, an assistant secretary of state for European affairs, as a special envoy to oversee the closure, according to news reports.

Among his tasks would be persuading other nations to accept some of the prisoners.

But the administration could face a similar struggle at home.

Guantanamo has about 250 terrorist suspects. Many have been held for years without charges. Some could be shipped to their home nations, if they will take them.

But an undetermined number will remain in U.S. custody. And a solid wall of opposition to moving them to U.S. sites has formed among members of Congress, local officials and civic leaders.

The opponents also include, perhaps awkwardly, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is expected to soon join the president's cabinet as secretary of health and human services.

Obama said federal prisons already hold prisoners with terrorist backgrounds.

"They are a serious risk," but securing them is not much different than securing other violent offenders, he said.

"I recognize why people are concerned," the president said. "I have every confidence we can determine the ultimate fates of those in Guantanamo in a way that's consistent with our values . . . our ideals, and keeps us safe and secure."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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