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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers anticipating an announcement on Guantanamo detainees in the coming weeks are working to block the move of any prisoners to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, arguing the site isn’t suitable for dangerous terrorists.
White House and Department of Justice officials insist that no move or decision is imminent, and won’t even confirm that Fort Leavenworth is on the list of potential relocation sites for the 229 detainees from the controversial camp in Cuba.
But despite those denials, lawmakers are attacking the Leavenworth option as short-sighted and potentially risky.
On Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said it would have "a very negative outcome for our military officers ... and the health of our relationships with Muslim nations."
Last week, Kansas Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans, put a hold on 10 nominations before the Senate — including incoming Army Secretary John McHugh — until President Barack Obama offers more information on a final location for the detainees and promises Fort Leavenworth won’t be considered. Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, the state’s House delegation and other Republican lawmakers have also voiced their opposition.
But Skelton’s role as Democratic House leader on military issues, and his past as a vocal supporter of closing the prison camp, make his comments more difficult for the White House to ignore.
Along with general security concerns, Skelton said putting the detainees in Kansas could have a negative impact on the Army’s Command and General Staff College, which provides education courses to foreign military officers, as well as U.S. personnel.
"If detainees from Guantanamo were to be transferred to Fort Leavenworth, a number of Muslim countries would decline to continue to send their students," he wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "I feel strongly that Fort Leavenworth is not an appropriate option."
Two government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said representatives of the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security departments were touring a state prison in Standish, Michigan, on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
Currently, 65 staffers from the departments of Justice, Defense and State make up the task forces researching ways to close the prison.
A report detailing the status of detainees — which will be released to foreign countries, which must stay incarcerated — is due to Congress later this month.
"If detainees from Guantanamo were to be transferred to Fort Leavenworth, a number of Muslim countries would decline to continue to send their students," he wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "I feel strongly that Fort Leavenworth is not an appropriate option.