Colorado Sheriffs to Obama: Don't Send Guantanamo Prisoners Here

An image from a 2013 video calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. Additional images below.
An image from a 2013 video calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. Additional images below.

In recent years, Colorado sheriffs have gotten mighty political, with many of them attempting to work as a team to achieve their objectives.

Note a 2013 lawsuit, filed under the names of 55 sheriffs in the state, that attempted to undermine new gun-control laws; the following year, a judge ruled that the laws were constitutional.

Undeterred, numerous Colorado sheriffs joined colleagues in Kansas and Nebraska  earlier this year to sue Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper over Amendment 64, the measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in the state. Thus far, no further action on this court challenge has been reported.

And now? A letter to President Barack Obama signed by 41 Colorado sheriffs asks that military prisoners at a Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility that Obama wants to close by the end of his administration not be sent to the state.

The entrance to the Guantanamo Bay facility.
The entrance to the Guantanamo Bay facility.

At first blush, this request seems surprising.

True, plenty of Guantanamo detainees are suspected of terrorist activities directed at the United States.

But there are already a large number of terrorists, both domestic and international, in Colorado supermax facilities.

Examples include Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, so-called "Underwear Bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

Inside a Guantanamo prison.
Inside a Guantanamo prison.

But while the sheriffs, in their letter, express confidence that Colorado prison personnel would be able to handle the Guantanamo prisoners, they highlight concern that their presence could make the state a terrorist target.

The entire letter, as shared on Facebook by Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith (who was also part of the aforementioned lawsuits), is on view below in its entirety. But here's a key excerpt:

...We recognize that there is a more significant public safety concern — the danger posed by sympathizers who would mount an attack on these facilities or commit other acts of terror in our state to draw further attention to their causes.We recently learned that the FBI has almost 1,000 active ISIS investigations taking place inside the borders of the United States. 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.

Why the presence of Yousef and company doesn't present the same problem isn't explained.

Ramzi Yousef.
Ramzi Yousef.
File photo

Additionally, the sheriffs argue that transporting prisoners from supermax facilities to Denver for court appearances would create serious risks — a point made with a reference to the Oklahoma City bombing trial that took place here nearly two decades ago.

Another excerpt:

In the 1990s, we experienced the dangers and threats to our capital city, Denver, when two domestic terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were tried there. Security during that trial was unprecedented. We can only imagine the disruptions and dangers throughout our state if enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay were routinely transported from Canon City to the heart of our capital city of Denver.

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The letter appears to have been timed to U.S. Senate action on the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which, as noted by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, "includes language saying that no money from it can be used to transfer or release those detainees onto U.S. soil."

The bill passed by a vote of 91-3.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith posted the letter on his Facebook page.
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith posted the letter on his Facebook page.
Facebook

Here's the letter.

November 9, 2015
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We, the undersigned Sheriffs from the State of Colorado, write in strong opposition to your proposed actions to transfer dangerous foreign enemy combatants held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military detention facility to civilian prisons in our state.

As the top law enforcement officials in our counties, elected by our citizens and charged with maintaining public safety and security in our respective counties, we are concerned that utilizing current civilian prisons in our state would significantly — and unnecessarily — endanger our citizens.

The prisons being reviewed are all high security prisons, indicating that officials responsible for the detainment of these individuals believe that the prisoners represent a significant security threat to the citizens of our state. We do not question the ability of Bureau of Prisons to detain these prisoners, but we recognize that there is a more significant public safety concern — the danger posed by sympathizers who would mount an attack on these facilities or commit other acts of terror in our state to draw further attention to their causes.

We recently learned that the FBI has almost 1,000 active ISIS investigations taking place inside the borders of the United States. 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.

While civilian prisons were built to keep inmates in, they were not designed to deter or repel organized attacks from the outside.

As sheriffs, we are tremendously concerned that our communities can and will be endangered if civilian prisons inside our state are utilized to hold enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay. Recent history has shown us repeated examples around the globe of coordinated, violent attacks against prisons holding radical Islamic militants. We strongly protest actions that might well add our state to the list of locations where such deadly attacks have occurred.

The locations that the Department of Defense recently scouted for proposed transfer of these detainees are in close proximity to densely-populated areas of Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, and Fort Carson. Pueblo is home to the U.S. Army's Chemical Weapons Depot.

Further adding to our statewide concern is the reality that any detainees housed in our state will likely be accessing the federal court system. That will require transporting them to the federal district courts or federal court of appeals, located in Denver. The transportation of these detainees from Freemont County to the Denver metropolitan area will cross many counties and will create many safety and security threats to our communities that must be addressed by Colorado sheriffs.

In the 1990s, we experienced the dangers and threats to our capital city, Denver, when two domestic terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were tried there. Security during that trial was unprecedented. We can only imagine the disruptions and dangers throughout our state if enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay were routinely transported from Canon City to the heart of our capital city of Denver.

In Colorado, county sheriffs are responsible for enforcement of criminal law and keeping the peace throughout the state, not a state police agency. When individual sheriff’s offices are overwhelmed, we draw from our fellow sheriffs for assistance through mutual aid requests.

Therefore, this matter concerns and affects each and every sheriff across the state.

Mr. President, we implore you to reconsider your plans to redeploy enemy combatants from a secured military base in Cuba to civilian prisons in Colorado.

We recognize the risk to our citizens from this ill-conceived plan is too high. We respectfully urge you to reconsider this plan and keep these terrorists safely far away from our nation’s shores and our great state.

Most Respectfully,

Sheriff James Beicker, Fremont County
Sheriff Anthony Mazzola, Rio Blanco County
Sheriff Bill Elder, El Paso County
Sheriff Brett Powell, Logan County
Sheriff Brett Schroetlin, Grand County
Sheriff Bruce Hartman, Gilpin County
Sheriff Casey Sheridan, Kiowa County
Sheriff Chad Day, Yuma County
Sheriff Dan Warwick, Saguache County
Sheriff David Walcher, Arapahoe County
Sheriff Dominic Mativa, Ouray County
Sheriff Fred Hosselkus, Mineral County
Sheriff Fred McKee, Delta County
Sheriff Fred Wegener, Park County
Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, Routt County
Sheriff James Van Beek, Eagle County
Sheriff James Casias, Las Animas County
Sheriff Jeff Shrader, Jefferson County
Sheriff Jerry Martin, Dolores County
Sheriff Jim Crone, Morgan County
Sheriff John Minor, Summit County
Sheriff Jon Stivers, Washington County
Sheriff Justin Smith, Larimer County
Sheriff KC Hume, Moffat County
Sheriff Kirk Taylor, Pueblo County
Sheriff Lou Vallario, Garfield County
Sheriff Matt Lewis, Mesa County
Sheriff Mike Ensminger, Teller County
Sheriff Mike McIntosh, Adams County
Sheriff Richard Albers, Clear Creek County
Sheriff Rich Valdez, Archuleta County
Sheriff Rick Besecker, Gunnison County
Sheriff Rick Dunlap, Montrose County
Sheriff Robert Jackson, Alamosa County
Sheriff Rod Fenske, Lake County
Sheriff Ron Bruce, Hinsdale County
Sheriff Sam Zordel, Prowers County
Sheriff Shayne Heap, Elbert County
Sheriff Shawn Mobely, Otero County
Sheriff Steve Nowlin, Montezuma County
Sheriff Steve Reams, Weld County
Sheriff Tom Hanna, Sedgwick County
Sheriff Tom Ridnour, Kit Carson County
Sheriff Tom Nestor, Lincoln County
Sheriff Tony Spurlock, Douglas County Sheriff's Office



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