Michigan GOP lawmakers don't want Gitmo prisoners

Republican House lawmakers from Michigan on Thursday criticized the Obama administration for considering their state for a new prison to house Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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Talk of moving detainees from the controversial prison in Cuba to rural Michigan gained traction Thursday as a team of Obama administration officials visited the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility in eastern Michigan. The officials includes representatives of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense.

The administration is also thinking about housing the facility in Kansas, despite objections from that state’s GOP senators, who have placed a hold on President Barack Obama’s Army secretary nominee.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the administration for not publicizing the visit to Michigan, and said he only learned of it from news coverage.

“They haven’t been upfront at all on this,” said Hoeksta, a gubernatorial candidate in Michigan who has previously criticized the idea of housing Guantanamo detainees in his state. “We found out through the media they were going to Standish, Michigan,” he said in an interview with The Hill.
 
Hoekstra is requesting permission to lead a delegation of state and local officials to the Guantanamo Bay prison, which Obama hopes to close early in 2010.

“If the federal government wants to move this threat and this risk from Gitmo to Mainland, U.S.A., the people in the community and the state that’s going to be assuming this responsibility ought to know what they’re in for,” Hoekstra said.

Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.), another Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said in an e-mailed statement that he was opposed to a “cash for the clink” program that would bring “the world’s most dangerous terrorists to Michigan.”

But some Democratic lawmakers in Michigan are open to the idea of using the Standish facility as a prison for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The Michigan prison is one of eight correctional institutions slated for closure in the cash-strapped state, and some see taking Guantanamo prisoners as a way to keep it open.

Michigan is also considering taking prisoners from jails in California, where prisons are overcrowded.

“While the California option is preferred over the Guantanamo option, Guantanamo is preferred over nothing,” said Michelle Begnoche, a spokeswoman for Rep. Bart Stupak (D). His district encompasses Standish, and he was the first Michigan lawmaker to propose the idea of importing the detainees.

Those interested in accepting prisoners see it as a way to bolster the economy in a state with an unemployment rate of 15.2 percent, the highest in the nation. Arenac County, which encompasses Standish, has a jobless rate even higher than the state average.

But some worry that jobs created by a prison holding Guantanamo detainees would not go to local residents.

Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, warned Wednesday in testimony before a Michigan legislative panel that few locals would keep their jobs if the Department of Defense took over the Standish prison.

He said any economic gains the area would see from the federal takeover would be wiped out by other losses.

“Even if there are some military people that move in,” he said, “they’ll end up buying homes that are foreclosed on the state correctional officers who lost their jobs.” Grieshaber’s union is promoting interstate transfers rather than the Guantanamo Bay option.

Michigan Sen. Jim Barcia (D), who was scheduled to meet with the federal officials on Friday, said he’d ask how local jobs could be preserved.

“One of the first questions I asked Congressman Stupak and I will ask [the federal officials] is how we might be able to incorporate the current employees into the new facility,” said Barcia, who is undecided on the plan. He said he’s worried a federal takeover could limit local employees to working in the cafeteria and maintaining the grounds.  

Some state Republican lawmakers in Michigan also are open to housing Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Standish.

Michigan GOP state Rep. Tim Moore, who said the prison system is responsible for 25 percent of Standish's revenue, supports the Guantanamo transfers should no interstate options emerge.

Moore, however, said he would be open to Hoekstra’s plan to increase awareness of what it takes to house terror detainees.

“I’ve heard that from federal delegates, that ‘You just don't know what you're getting into,’” he said. “We would love to have the federal government tell us what we're getting into.”

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