It's no secret that President Barack Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay has been mired in political maneuvering and posturing of all sorts. What's surprising, though, is the strange and vehement alliance that's emerged in opposition to the long-contemplated move of remaining Gitmo detainees to American soil — and to Colorado in particular.
The howls of protest actually began back in 2009, when the newly elected Obama first began floating the idea of closing Gitmo. Several Colorado political luminaries, from Democratic Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett to then-state-lawmaker Cory Gardner, fretted that such a move would make the state a target for terrorist attacks. Faced with stiff congressional opposition, the administration shelved the idea. Predictably, one of the loudest voices to denounce the plan this time around is Gardner, who replaced Udall in the Senate — giving him a more prominent platform for his hearty support of the War on Terror...as long as you don't have to bring it home with you.
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There are, of course, multiple ironies to the Gitmo quandary and the ideological opposition to shipping the detainees stateside. While some of the remaining detainees may eventually be repatriated somewhere, at least half of them are considered "unreturnable" because of their commitment to jihad. But incarcerating them indefinitely without trial in the, uh, land of the free poses legal and public-relations problems. At the same time, the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum in Florence already houses some of the most dangerous terrorists alive — including 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, shoe bomber Richard Reid and Ramzi Yousef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center attack — with no perceptible increase in the threat level to little ol' Colorado.
You might think that, with the infrastructure of the federal correctional complex in Florence already in place — plus an empty supermax up the road, the like-new, unused Colorado State Penitentiary II — that local officials and law enforcement would be more than willing to pitch in. But no; as Michael Roberts noted a couple of weeks ago, 41 Colorado sheriffs sent a letter to the president urging him to keep his leftover jihadists out of our fair state. "We believe it would be dangerously naïve not to recognize that a civilian prison with an untold number of enemy combatant inmates, located in our state, would provide a very tempting target for anyone wishing to either free these detainees or simply wishing to make a political statement," they groused.
And, according to a recent article in the New York Times, the grass-roots aversion to the move in Canon City and Florence runs deep. Never mind that many good folks in Fremont County have been making their living off the prison industry for more than a century, or that one of the big tourism draws is the local prison museum. Reeling from a sexting scandal and tired of being marketed as a capital of yahoos and turnkeys, the locals are suddenly concerned about their public image and the security threat of living next door to the unreturnables.
There are substantial legal hurdles the Obama administration will have to overcome to close Gitmo at last. But the convergence of forces arrayed to contest the detainees' arrival in Colorado suggests that it's going to take some winning of hearts and minds, too.