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Michigan town lobbies for Gitmo transfers
OKEMOS, Mich. | While politicians across America furiously resist the idea of transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to their communities, one small Michigan town is lobbying to get them.
Standish, Mich., Mayor Kevin King is looking at the terrorism suspects as a possible new lease on life for the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, a major source of economic activity for his town that is scheduled to close at the end of this month.
It has been a lonely struggle, however. His proposal has angered state lawmakers who want involvement in the process, divided the region’s residents and prompted a series of heated town-hall meetings.
Mr. King says that unless a way is found to keep the prison open, his community of 1,500 people will face economic devastation and be on the hook for millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements planned to service the prison.
“Financially, looking at what the closing of this state prison is doing to Standish, it’s a no-brainer. We need someone in that prison. From a financial perspective, it’s a viable option,” Mr. King said. “We need someone in there to pay the bills.”
The Standish City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution to support transferring more than 200 incarcerated terrorism suspects to Standish when President Obama fulfills his promise to close the detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Arenac County Commission, representing the 17,000-resident county, passed a similar resolution of support earlier this month.
But opponents in nearby towns and across the state have hosted community forums arguing that expected new jobs and revenue infusions involved in the transfer are nothing compared with the security concerns.
At a town-hall meeting Tuesday night in Okemos, sponsored by the Michigan Coalition to Stop Gitmo North, terrorism scholar Peter M. Leitner of the Higgins Counterterrorism Research Center called moving prisoners to Michigan “state-assisted suicide.”
Standish “will be radioactive,” he said, noting that bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil would heighten their profile, revive legal issues surrounding their detention and give them access to supporters in cells here as they seek to wreak havoc against American citizens.
“These are the rock stars of international Islamist terrorism,” Mr. Leitner said, noting the prison’s proximity to urban population centers along with “soft targets” such as schools, and warning of hostage-style massacres similar to the 2004 attack in Beslan, Russia, where at least 330 people were killed, including 186 schoolchildren.
“The logistics in moving prisoners here is absolutely enormous,” he added, citing security burdens on law enforcement and public safety resources that he described as an “unfunded mandate” for an already cash-strapped state. “It won’t make Michigan a place for tourism, for investment. … It makes it a place where people don’t want to live.”
At Tuesday’s forum, nobody spoke in favor of moving the terrorism suspects to the Standish prison.
Mr. King, who will serve in his mayoral post for three more weeks, told The Washington Times that the groups opposing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to Standish is small. He said “a lot of propaganda” with little basis in fact is being spread about such issues as road closures and eminent domain, and he insisted the town’s people welcome the idea.
The prison is the county’s largest employer and a key source for money for the area. The mayor said the city is on the hook for $7 million in outstanding bonds for sewer and water system upgrades for the prison and the debt will sink the city’s finances if there isn’t something to replace it.
“We have a financial burden with those bonds,” he said. “If no one is in that prison, then it’s on the taxpayers here to take care of that.”
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