Federal and Michigan state officials yesterday toured the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility to assess the prison's ability to safely detain prisoners from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The rural Michigan prison complex is one of two possible destinations for the 229 Gitmo detainees rounded up since the start of the U.S. war against jihadi terrorists. The other location is the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the the visit a "very preliminary site survey." Officials from the White House, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Justice joined a dozen state officials touring the facility.
The Christian Science Monitor carried a quick description of the facility's basic security posture:
Security is tight at the Standish prison: The prison has five gun towers and is protected by a 16-foot double chain-link fence topped with razor-ribbon wire and monitored by a "state of the art" electronic detection system, according to a Michigan state website. It would appear likely that additional security provisions would be made before any detainees from Guantánamo Bay were housed there.
State and local reaction have been divided over whether to house Gitmo detainees at the prison. Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says he wants the departments of Defense and Justice to lead a delegation of state and local officials down to Guantanamo to see the detainees so they know what they're getting into, according to the Associated Press.
The residents of Standish seem hesitant, but will roll the dice if it means keeping the prison gates open. The facility is slated to close due to state budgetary woes but could remain open if the prison receives inmates from other states, like California, or Gitmo.
Standing outside the prison, corrections officer Tom Kerrins, 49, of Gladwin, said he hopes Standish gets prisoners from other states, rather than Guantanamo Bay.
"If there's even a 1 in 1,000 chance that a (terrorist attack) could happen, the stakes are too high," he said. "We would have a big bullseye being put on our community."
But if it means keeping the prison open, "We'll take them," he said.
Kerrins, however, fears that even if Gitmo detainees do get housed at Standish, he'll still lose his job anyway. He thinks the federal government will want to use its own personnel even though he believes he and his colleagues could do the job.
The effort to incarcerate the detainees on American soil stems from President Obama's campaign pledge to shut down the extralegal detention center, which he believes has harmed the moral justification for the U.S. war against al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations.
♦ Photo of Gitmo detainees by InsurgenciaGrafica/Flickr