Hardin, Mont., Eyes Guantanamo Detainees
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The City of Hardin, Montana, has a financial problem. It's in the form of a 464-bed detention facility that's been finished for almost two years but still has no prisoners, and that means no jobs, just one big, empty building. So Hardin city executives have embraced a controversial solution to the problem. They want their Two Rivers Detention Facility to house the inmates now at Guantanamo Bay.
Greg Smith is executive director of the Two Rivers Authority, the city of Hardin's economic development arm. When the idea was first suggested to him, he admits he was more than a little resistant.
Mr. GREG SMITH (Executive Director, Two Rivers Authority): I thought they were nuts, but I listened. And, you know, at one point, I went, why are you being so negative to this? We're trying to unturn every rock to open this facility that's been closed for just about two years, and it's never been opened. Why not?
NORRIS: What would this conversion mean if the Two Rivers Detention Facility were used to house the detainees now at Guantanamo? What would that mean there to the people of Hardin? How many jobs would it create?
Mr. SMITH: If it were a detention center, as it's built, it would be designated for about 105. Being that it would for the federal government, the nature of housing enemy combatants, terrorists, whatever, you know, whatever the label you put on them, probably would be significantly more. And, of course, it would also be at a higher wage scale.
NORRIS: Are you worried at all that Hardin might come to stand for something that is not necessarily in accordance with the image that you want to project if you're trying to bring people to visit Hardin, to, say, to visit the Custer Battlefield, which is just down the road, that this - that Hardin might come to stand for something else, something larger, something in people's minds that is seen as something negative?
Mr. SMITH: Well, if you talk to the locals that have been there a long time, and those of us have businesses, we already believe Hardin already has the stigma. If you go look at our downtown, there's many closed businesses, almost everyone is for sale. I mean, you can go down and you'll see, you know, drunks laying in the streets. I mean, it's not a pretty sight already. And we have to be, you know, we have to be honest by that.
So we're really worried about the stigma. I think if you got to people that we're more worried, they may be worried about their safety in the short term of how it's going to be with, you know, say, relatives or friends of the enemy combatants might come in and want to do them harm. I think they'd be more worried about that.
NORRIS: So, who do you ultimately have to sell on this idea? To whom do you have to make your case?
Mr. SMITH: I would say it's the White House and the Justice Department ultimately will make it. Because as President Obama went around, this was no secret that he was going to wanted to close Guantanamo Bay. He had a lot of citizen's groups and citizens that wanted this. They believed that a lot of people were held basically for no reason, that they were enemy combatants. If they were going to be processed, they should be under the due process of our laws given the rights of citizens.
Well, they forgot one part: is that if you're going to do that, they're going to have to live somewhere in your communities while we do this. And I haven't seen one senator or representative of Congress that has stood up and said, I'll put it in my backyard. But a whole bunch of them were for it, and that troubles me some.
NORRIS: Now, the two senators who represent the state of Montana have not warmed up to this idea.
Mr. SMITH: Not in the least bit. What we really just ask is that somebody come out from the federal government that's going to make this decision, take a look at what we have to offer and consider us. If it's right for the country, let's do it. If it's not right, let's not.
NORRIS: Mr. Smith, thank you very much for your time. It's been good to talk to you.
Mr. SMITH: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Greg Smith is the executive director of the Two Rivers Authority, that's the economic development arm for the city of Hardin, Montana.
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