After President Obama ordered that the military detention centre at Guantánamo Bay be shuttered,lawmakers in Washington wrestled with the implications of bringing dozens of the 245 remaining inmates onto American soil.
Republican lawmakers,who oppose Obamas plan,found a talking point with political appeal. They said closing Guantánamo could allow dangerous terrorists to get off on legal technicalities and be released into quiet neighbourhoods across the US. If the detainees were convicted,the Republicans continued,American prisons housing terrorism suspects could become magnets for attacks.
Meanwhile,none of the Democrats,who on Thursday hailed the closing of the detention camp,were stepping forward to offer prisons in their districts or states to receive the prisoners. Senator Christopher S Bond,Republican of Missouri and vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee,taunted the chairwoman,Dianne Feinstein,Democrat of California,by suggesting that the authorities reopen Alcatraz Prison in the San Francisco Bay.
On Friday,a spokesman for Feinstein countered that Alcatraz now was a national park and tourist attraction,not a functioning prison,and that the senator does not consider it a suitable place to house detainees.
But Feinstein does believe that some Guantánamo prisoners could be moved to maximum-security civilian or military prisons in the US,the spokesman said,not naming any specific ones.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in response to a question on Friday that Guantánamo detainees who were moved to the US should be held at maximum-security federal facilities wherever they are available.
The number of detainees who may face federal trials by various estimates,50 to 100 of the remaining Guantánamo inmates is tiny by the standards of the federal prison system,which currently holds 201,375 people in 114 facilities,according to Felicia Ponce,a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Those include nine detention centres that hold defendants awaiting trial,21 high-security penitentiaries and a supersecure prison in Florence,Colorado,where several convicted terrorists are already locked up.
Obama administration officials are beginning to review the files on the remaining detainees at Guantánamo to decide where they should go. Some have been judged not dangerous and cleared for release,but officials have not found a country to take them. Others,including Mohammed,the chief planner of 9/11,will almost certainly face trial,either in a federal or a military court.
Republican lawmakers have watched these struggles with a certain relish.
Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan,the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee,said: As people start getting an indication that theyre going to Kansas,that theyre going to California,that theyre going to Illinois or to Michigan,people are going to say,No,why would we want them here and put them in a general prison population and make our hometowns a target for terrorists.
Despite speculation about the possibility of moving large numbers of detainees to a single military jail,government officials and legal experts say it is more likely that inmates would be sent to facilities across the country. That would reduce the burden on any single location and make each site less of a potential terrorist target.