Leavenworth, Kan., Eyes Guantanamo Warily Leavenworth, Kan., has four big penitentiaries, including the Defense Department's only maximum-security prison. Many view that facility as the obvious choice to house detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Some town leaders are against the transfer, but others see economic opportunity.
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Leavenworth, Kan., Eyes Guantanamo Warily

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Leavenworth, Kan., Eyes Guantanamo Warily

Leavenworth, Kan., Eyes Guantanamo Warily

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Around the country, communities that are home to prisons are gearing up to prevent the arrival of a new group of prisoners: detainees from Guantanamo Bay. President Obama has ordered the detention camp closed and no place seems more up for a fight over taking those prisoners than Leavenworth, Kansas.

Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS: Leavenworth is the oldest city in Kansas. It's hilly, with lots of big trees and a fairly healthy, old downtown. But its name just says slammer.

(Soundbite of song, "Leavenworth")

Mr. JOHNNY CASH (Musician): (Singing) Leavenworth, you filthy rotten hole.

MORRIS: Inmates stare out from behind bars on just about every souvenir T-shirt. Eric Van Horn runs a shop downtown.

Mr. ERIC VAN HORN: And one of our other designs is called Prison City, USA - Prison Town, USA - excuse me. You scold them, we hold them.

MORRIS: There are four prisons here, hundreds and hundreds of inmates. And for some businessmen, like Phil Urban, the prospect of getting Guantanamo detainees here spells an influx of recession-proof federal jobs.

Mr. PHIL URBAN: If they're willing to build the facilities and create the jobs and it increases money flow into our community, build the facility, bring them on.

MORRIS: The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth is, after all, the military's only maximum-security prison, the one where all the real nasties are held.

Mr. CHARLIE GREGOR (Retired Army Special Forces): The worst, the worst. But nobody is going to blow up a school in protest for their being here.

MORRIS: Charlie Gregor is retired Army Special Forces. Like most here, he's not worried about escapees. It's been more than 30 years since anyone broke out of the disciplinary barracks. But he is worried about bringing the war on terrorism to his front porch. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In fact, several people have escaped from Fort Leavenworth since 1991.]

Mr. GREGOR: We are talking about a totally different class of prisoner.

MORRIS: One, he fears, would make Fort Leavenworth a rallying point for terrorists, same as Gitmo is now. The city, county, state of Kansas and its congressional delegation are all against the move. Gregor fears that it would paint a huge target on the 182-year-old fort.

Mr. GREGOR: This is the softest and most vulnerable installation in the United States Army, as far as I'm concerned. Absolutely - and, by the way, that's the least of my concerns.

MORRIS: The worst of them involve places like Lawson Elementary, right outside the fort where Matt McCardy(ph) is picking up his first-grader.

Mr. MATT MCCARDY: If I were a terrorist trying to make an impact, make a statement, you don't go after the base, you go after the easy target.

MORRIS: Many worried the mere presence of terrorism suspects would harm the Army's primary mission here: advanced education. The command and general staff college on post attracts officers from around the world. Graduates include five sitting heads of state - the president of Indonesia, for one - and lots of high-ranking military commanders, including the head of Pakistan's armed forces. U.S. Senator Sam Brownback says diplomats tell him that moving Gitmo detainees to Leavenworth could drive valued students away from the exchange program.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): The countries are Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - key allies of the United States in the war on terrorism.

MORRIS: And there's a problem with international law. Sarah Mendelson researched closing Guantanamo for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She points out that prisons are for convicts, and that the detainees in question haven't even had a trial.

Ms. SARAH MENDELSON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): There are pretrial detention facilities associated with various courts that have handled over 145 convictions of international terrorist cases since 2001.

MORRIS: Mendelson says those same jails could handle the 60 or so Guantanamo detainees she thinks run any chance of facing prosecution in the United States. That said, Army officials say that if the Justice Department does decide to send any or all of the 245 detainees still at Guantanamo to Fort Leavenworth, they'll figure out a way to accommodate them.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

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