- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Two Republican senators Thursday vowed to block key White House nominees to the Defense and Justice departments until President Obama gives them answers on the possible transfer of terrorist suspects to a maximum security prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback announced they would use the procedural tactic - in which a senator can place a legislative “hold” on a presidential appointee - in the wake of media reports that the facility is being considered along with a prison in Standish, Mich., as a possible home for detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The senators said Mr. Obama either needs to drop the plan or explain in detail why he thinks Kansas is a workable location. “Not in my backyard. Not in Kansas. I will shut down the Senate before I let that happen,” Mr. Roberts said this week.

The move represents the latest clash between Congress and the White House over Mr. Obama’s quest to follow through on his campaign promise of shutting down Guantanamo by January.

But Mr. Obama’s task has proved to be perhaps more difficult than the administration expected. A task force reviewing cases of each of the 229 current detainees recently postponed a report on their final disposition, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have warned against relocating the prisoners to U.S. soil.

Separately this week, the entire Kansas congressional delegation - five Republicans and one Democrat - expressed their outrage in a letter to Mr. Obama urging him to visit both Leavenworth and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The lawmakers noted that no one from the administration had briefed them on the plans, which were first reported by the Associated Press.

“As elected representatives, it is our duty to convey the concern, anger and dismay of Leavenworth’s citizens,” they wrote. “Simply put, they worry their schools, hospitals and shopping centers will become symbolic, easy targets for terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.”

Mr. Obama signed the executive order to shutter Guantanamo in the first hours of his presidency, citing what he and other critics described as negative symbolism over U.S. detention policies. The task force has reportedly identified a fraction of the detainees as being eligible for trial; others have been deemed too dangerous, requiring indefinite detention.

In contrast to their Kansas counterparts, lawmakers in Michigan, home to the other prison being considered by the White House, largely avoided taking a firm stance on the matter.

“I can support it providing the governor and local officials are supportive of it,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The position of Michigan’s other senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow, is not clear. Calls and e-mails to her office were not returned.

At least one Michigan lawmaker vowed to fight the idea.

“I hope that the press reports are inaccurate, but if they are correct the notion of transferring terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay to Michigan needs to end,” said Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking GOP member on the House intelligence panel. “I intend to do everything possible to prevent it from happening. 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.”

According to Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, administration officials will be visiting Michigan in the coming weeks

“It is important to remember that Standish is just one option under consideration and no decision has been made,” Mr. Stupak said. “Any proposal must have a comprehensive security analysis and economic and job creation implications. I will work with local and state officials to gauge their level of support before a final decision is made.”

Earlier this session, the Democratic leadership in both chambers bucked the administration by refusing to fund Mr. Obama’s request for money to close Guantanamo absent a plan for what to do with the detainees. Though the closure can be carried out through executive order, some legal experts and members of Congress say that moving and housing suspects in the U.S. would require congressional authorization.

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