Court-prison considered for terror suspects
Cuba detainees could be moved to Kan., Mich.
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is looking at creating a courtroom-within-a-prison complex in the United States to house suspected terrorists, combining military and civilian detention facilities at a single maximum-security prison.
Several senior US officials said the administration is eyeing a soon-to-be-shuttered state maximum-security prison in Michigan and the 134-year-old military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as possible locations for a heavily guarded site to hold 229 suspected Al Qaeda, Taliban, and foreign fighters now jailed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
The officials outlined the plans - the latest effort to comply with President Obama’s order to close the prison camp by Jan. 22, 2010, and satisfy congressional and public fears about incarcerating terror suspects on American soil - on condition of anonymity because the options are under review.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Friday that no decisions have been made about the proposal. But the White House considers the courtroom-prison complex as the best among a series of bad options, an administration official said.
To the House Republican leader, it’s an “ill-conceived plan’’ that would bring terrorists into the United States despite opposition by Congress and the American people. “The administration is going to face a severe public backlash unless it shelves this plan and goes back to the drawing board,’’ said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Representative John Boehner of Ohio.
For months, government lawyers and senior officials at the Pentagon, Justice Department, and the White House have struggled with how to close the internationally reviled US Navy prison at Guantanamo.
Congress has blocked $80 million intended to bring the detainees to the United States. Lawmakers want the administration to say how it plans to make the moves without putting Americans at risk.
The facility would operate as a hybrid prison system jointly operated by the Justice Department, the military, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The administration’s plan, according to three government officials, calls for:
■Moving all the Guantanamo detainees to a single US prison. The Justice Department has identified between 60 and 80 who could be prosecuted in military or federal criminal courts. The Pentagon would oversee the detainees who would face trial in military tribunals. The Bureau of Prisons, an arm of the Justice Department, would manage defendants in federal courts.
■Building a court facility within the prison site for military or criminal defendants. Doing so would create a single venue for almost all the criminal defendants, ending the need to transport them elsewhere in the United States for trial.
■Providing long-term holding cells for a small but still undetermined number of detainees who will not face trial because intelligence and counterterror officials conclude they are too dangerous to risk being freed.
■Building immigration detention cells for detainees ordered released by courts but still behind bars because countries are unwilling to take them.
Two senior US officials said one option for the proposed hybrid prison would be to use the soon-to-be-shuttered Standish maximum-security state prison in northeast Michigan. The facility already has individual cells and ample security for detainees.
Getting Standish prison ready for the detainees would be costly. One official estimated that it would cost $100 million for security and building upgrades.
Administration officials said the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth is under consideration because it is already a high-security facility that could be further protected by the surrounding military base.
Glenn Sulmasy, an international law professor at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., said the prison-court complex will “be difficult, but it’s logical.’’