- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Staring at a January deadline, the Obama administration is debating between two dramatically different schemes for putting Guantanamo Bay detainees on trial: big-city courtrooms on the East Coast or a one-of-a-kind superprison in the Midwest.

The participants, working in secret meetings, know that the final and politically volatile decision about where to try detainees will be made by President Obama, who set the deadline for closing the prison on the U.S. naval base in Cuba to meet a campaign promise.

Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases have been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal trials in Washington, New York and Virginia, officials told the Associated Press on Monday, as the Justice Department, Pentagon and national security officials also weigh whether to hold virtually all Guantanamo-related civilian and military trials at a Midwestern prison in Michigan or Kansas.

The administration could decide that rather than bring the detainees to trial in a number of cities, it will bring prosecutors and judges with terrorism experience to one site in the Midwest for trial, which would pose other serious logistical hurdles. Or they could settle on a combination of the plans.

Administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations, said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. met privately last week with the chief federal prosecutors in four East Coast districts to discuss the preparations for possible indictments and trials.

The administration is also considering relocating the whole Guantanamo trial process to a more remote location. Several senior administration officials said they are considering a soon-to-be-shuttered state maximum security prison in Michigan and the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as possible locations for a heavily guarded site to hold the suspected 229 al Qaeda, Taliban and foreign fighters now imprisoned at Guantanamo.

Already, some are against the idea.

Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, vowed to oppose any attempt to bring Guantanamo prisoners to Michigan.

“They are some of the most dangerous people in the world, who pose a major threat to U.S. national security,” Mr. Hoekstra said in a statement issued Monday. “We need to preserve jobs in Michigan, but turning our state into a terrorist penal colony is not how to attract new families and business investment.”

On the other hand, workers at the Standish Maximum Security Prison in Michigan said they would welcome detainees with open arms - to save their jobs.

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the Guantanamo Bay detainee task force “has referred a significant number of cases for possible prosecution, and those cases have now been sent to U.S. Attorney offices who are reviewing them with prosecutors from the Office of Military Commissions.” His statement didn’t identify the districts involved.

Officials said the East Coast districts reviewing Guantanamo cases are: Washington; the Eastern District of Virginia, which has a courthouse in Alexandria; the Southern District of New York, which is based in Lower Manhattan; and the Eastern District of New York, which is based in Brooklyn.

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