Colorado Ground Zero In Renewed Guantanamo Debate

As the Pueblo Chieftain reports:

Colorado legislators, both state and federal, Republican and Democrat, agree that the Supermax federal prison would not be an ideal venue to house Guantanamo Naval Base detainees.

In a speech Thursday, President Barack Obama said that inmates at Gitmo should be moved to secure federal prisons on U.S. soil (of which the Supermax prison in Florence is one) or prisons in other countries, because they are too dangerous to release.

The announcement brought an immediate response from Colorado state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican.

“The professionals at the Federal Bureau of Prisons can handle any mission the president gives them,” McFadyen said. “But there are some misnomers that need to be dispelled. “Supermax is full, and it is a facility that we just cannot move inmates around and distribute through the system,” she said…

“At the Supermax, we’re short-staffed as it is,” McFadyen said. “In 1997, we had one staff member per 3.7 inmates and now it’s one staffer per 5 inmates.

“Would we get the support, the staff, the funds that we would need?” McFadyen asked.

We discussed the possible transfer of ex-Guantanamo detainees to high-security federal prisons in Colorado a few months ago when Governor Bill Ritter expressed support for the idea–and was promptly dogpiled for it by hysterical state level Republicans pushing a fevered-imagination “pipeline of terror from Kabul to Colorado” line that nobody took seriously. But there was also legitimate concern from longtime corrections worker advocates like Rep. McFadyen, which we think can be satisfied with the sort of detailed plain that Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet were asking for when they voted to deny President Obama the funding to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center–events that set up Obama’s dramatic speech on the matter yesterday.

As we saw back in January, there’s a distinct line between legitimate concerns about due process and infrastructure and what Republicans want–which is, of course, to keep Guantanamo Bay open, as the Chieftain continues:

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaking on the Senate floor, suggested that Supermax would be a candidate for housing the Gitmo detainees as she held up an aerial photograph of the federal prison complex and claimed the nation’s most secure prison, “Isn’t in a neighborhood. It isn’t in a community.”

“I resent the fact that Senator Feinstein would be so dismissive of the nearly 20,000 people who live in Florence and nearby Canon City where the great majority of the Supermax correctional officers live,” Lamborn said. “Many of those families live well within a mile of the perimeter of the prison complex and I can assure Mrs. Feinstein that my constituents near the Florence prison do, in fact, live in neighborhoods and communities.”

…Lamborn on May 7 co-sponsored a bill titled “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act.” The bill seeks to affirm congressional opposition to transferring or releasing terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay into the U.S.

It also would prohibit the transfer of detainees to any state without approval from that state’s governor and legislature. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services.

“I think the U.S. Senate is not so much against closing Gitmo as it is finding a lack of specific plans. I support this president, but I don’t think he is quite there yet and we need to be included in that process,” McFadyen said.

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams argued that U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, were being hypocritical this week in supporting the closure of the Guantanamo prison while opposing the transfer of detainees to Florence.

“I think it’s a mistake to close Guantanamo in the first place, but at least Senator Feinstein is being consistent and offering a plan of action when she says the detainees should be sent to Florence,” Wadhams said Thursday after speaking to a Pueblo Republican group. “For Senators Udall and Bennet to support closing Guantanamo while objecting to having detainees sent to Colorado takes a measure of audacity.”

Udall and Bennet joined with a majority of Senate lawmakers on Wednesday in refusing to fund any transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo. Both said they believed the detainees should be held at military prisons or bases while their futures are determined, not sent to Supermax.

For us, this is the key point: Republicans want to keep Guantanamo Bay open, but most Americans don’t. Udall and Bennet are concerned about due process with detainees that have had that denied for years of indefinite detention, and are probably correct that the best initial destination for them is not ADX-Florence. But we don’t think that’s what Obama has in mind–as these detainees are sorted through both the military and civilian justice process (note the trial to begin in federal court of a former Gitmo detainee), prisoners will end up in one or the other of those prison systems. If they are processed through civilian courts and convicted, they would come to Colorado’s Supermax, or other federal prisons, just like any other federal inmate. Just like the terrorists that are there right now.

There is, of course, the issue of prisoners Obama says can’t be tried or released, an issue causing quite a bit of consternation right now, but we expect they would remain in military custody–to the extent that those prisoners in particular are not appropriate for Florence, we agree with the critics. But that is by all accounts a small minority of cases. And remember we’re talking about fewer than three hundred people total.

So can somebody please tell us, other than reasonable concerns about details of the plan to do this thing that Americans–not to mention the rest of the world–wants very badly to happen for moral reasons, what’s the issue? Does this all really boil down to Dick Cheney saving face for creating the Gitmo “mess” to begin with? Guantanamo Bay’s illegal detention center, a blight on America’s moral authority to lead in the world will close. And history will not look kindly on Doug Lamborn’s lowbrow fearmongering agitation to keep it open–even if Diane Feinstein insults us all by presuming Florence is not a “neighborhood.” Even going down that stupid road with her is a distraction in our opinion, a capitulation to the scare tactic frame of the whole issue.

7 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. BlueCat says:

    And it was disheartening to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, unlike Udall and Bennet, frothing with the same fact and reality free talking points hysteria we get from Rs:  Soon to be appearing at mall near you… bloodthirsty terrorists on the lose and probably on welfare, too!    

  2. Barron X says:


    amounts to pandering and fearmongering, always good for a few “low information voter” votes,

    I say he is absolutely correct in he remarks this week, pushing back against Princess Feinstein.  

    I would like to encourage any conservatives thinking about running against Lamborn next year to consider switching to Colorado’s conservative party, the American Constitution Party.  

    You’ll need to change your registration by October this year, I think.  And you can probably change parties by mail.


  3. DavidThi808 says:

    First off, this country is really really good at locking people up and keeping them there. Best in the world.

    Second, we have reps basically saying their cosntituents are not competent enough to keep these guys in prison. Normally calling your voters incompetent does not get you re-elected.

    Third, if these guys escape – they’re running for home. Unlike the murderers and rapists in prison, who of they escape, are likely to harm people – these people will jsut run.

  4. SSG_Dan says:

    …then they’re going on a military base, and there’s not a damn thing any Candy-ass politician can do about it.

    Fort Leavenworth has plenty of room for these detainees. If there’s not enough empty cells, then they transfer the current military prisoners to other posts and bases, and start putting the detainees in their place.

    If the Commander in Chief calls up the Commander of Fort Carson, Fort Hood or (my favorite) Dugway Army Proving Ground and says “General, start building a POW Camp” then the COSCOM at that Post is going to start building one.

    Believe it or not, it’s a well-defined mission that these units practice all the time. Gitmo was not build up with a contract to Oakwood Homes…

    • Barron X says:


      thanks for reporting on the staffing shortages.

      I say, bring the detainees here, but first get the staffing up to standards, and if any physical security upgrades are needed, make them first.


  5. Ralphie says:

    why the prisoners were taken to Gitmo in the first place.

    Gitmo was regarded as a no-man’s land, not on American soil and not on anyone else’s either, where the Constitution and international law didn’t apply.

    The whole “terrorists on Main Street” argument is a red herring.

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