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Lawrence Journal-World June 13, 2007

Prison could get Gitmo detainees

By Mike Belt

Politicians continue to refer to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth as the military prison of choice for detaining terrorist suspects now at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, recently introduced a bill that would close the Guantanamo prison and send the detainees to Fort Leavenworth, about 35 miles northeast of Lawrence.

“We clearly believe Fort Leavenworth is prepared to handle these prisoners. It’s clearly something they are used to,” said Jennifer Mullin, spokeswoman for Harkin.

The Kansas prison is the only military prison with the maximum security designation. It dates back to 1875. But the old maximum security barracks, which held more than 1,000 prisoners, are gone. They were torn down when the new disciplinary barracks opened in 2002. The new barracks hold 500 prisoners and the daily inmate population is about 450, said Janet Wray, Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman.

In early June, there were about 480 detainees at Guantanamo, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a public Web site that carries information about military and defense systems and issues.

Wray referred questions about whether Fort Leavenworth was preparing for Guantanamo prisoners to the Department of Army in Washington, D.C. A spokesman there would say only that there is no “course of action” on Guantanamo.

If Guantanamo closed, Mullin said not all of the prisoners would have to go to Fort Leavenworth. She said many of those prisoners could be released if federal charges were not filed.

“Restoring habeas corpus is a big part of this bill,” Mullin said, referring to the legal process that safeguards against detaining someone without a legal reason. “It wouldn’t be likely that all of them will be charged.”

Harkin is seeking co-sponsors for his bill, which he introduced only a couple of weeks ago.

Other politicians also have talked of sending Guantanamo prisoners to Fort Leavenworth. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., mentioned it as a possible site in March when he recommended Congress cut funding for Guantanamo.


Copyright 2007, Lawrence Journal-World