WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's quest to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, perhaps by moving some detainees to the United States, has fostered an unusual alliance between his congressional critics and liberal-leaning advocacy groups that say changing the detention facility's ZIP code won't solve the problem.
Groups such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union say transferring the suspected terrorists to U.S. soil doesn't end the policy of indefinite detention.
Republican lawmakers who want the detainees to stay at Guantanamo agree. They say extremists will use detention without any filing of charges as a recruiting tool whether the suspects are in Cuba or at a U.S. prison.
A Defense Department team recently finished surveying seven sites in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas that could be the next address for some of the 112 detainees currently housed at Guantanamo Bay.
The White House is expected to release a report soon assessing the feasibility of using the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Midwest Joint Regional Corrections Facility at Leavenworth, Kansas; the Consolidated Naval Brig, in Hanahan, South Carolina; the Federal Correctional Complex, which includes the medium, maximum and supermax facilities in Florence, Colorado; and the Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City, Colorado, also known as the Centennial Correctional Facility.
"If somebody is housed indefinitely in Hanahan, South Carolina, versus Guantanamo Bay, they are still housed indefinitely without charges brought against them," said Rep. Mark Sanford, a conservative Republican from South Carolina who wants to keep the detainees at Guantanamo.
His comments echo those who have long wanted to see the facility closed.
Tina Foster, a New York lawyer who represents Guantanamo detainees, said closing the prison is nothing more than a public relations measure.
"It does absolutely nothing to address the continued detention of men who have now been detained for 15 years without trial," she said. "The real danger posed by bringing detainees to U.S. soil is that it opens the door to indefinite detention without trial on U.S. soil."
That also worries Naureen Shah at the Amnesty International's U.S. section.
She said moving prisoners, detained without charge, to the U.S. sets a dangerous precedent and makes a mockery of the American criminal justice system. She also worries that future presidents could detain more terrorist suspects in future conflicts, resulting in a parallel justice system in the United States: some people can exercise their U.S. right to a fair trial, while others can be held indefinitely without being charged.
"Nobody should be locked up to die without charge," she said, noting that Amnesty International wrote Obama last month, urging him not to move detainees to the United States.
Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, said, "The problem with Gitmo is not just the prison or the real estate, it's the policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial."
This is one of the very reasons Obama has sought to close the prison.
"The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop," Obama said in April 2013, one of repeated comments the president has made in his pursuit to honor his campaign pledge to close the prison.
"Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists," Obama said.
The president has tried repeatedly over the years to close the prison, but Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have resisted. In the meantime, the administration has transferred prisoners overseas, reducing the population from 242 when Obama took office to 112. That's down from a high of nearly 800.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that moving detainees to the U.S. would not remove the terrorists' recruitment tool.
Obama's pledge "was always based on the notion that softening America's image abroad would somehow soften our enemies' resolve," said Grassley, R-Iowa. "The headlines every day remind us that that's not the way it is."
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., agreed, saying moving detainees to U.S. lockups won't end the extremists' propaganda campaign against the United States.
"The propaganda war will simply shift to whatever facility these terrorists are brought to in the United States, allowing them to engage in a whole new propaganda campaign against 'GITMO North,' " Inhofe said on the Senate floor this week.
In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said he has asked the state's attorney general to look into filing a suit against the federal government, arguing that surveying potential sites violates "well-known and notorious" language in annual defense spending measures against using federal dollars to assist in transferring detainees.
"It is the law of the land," Brownback told The Associated Press. "I think it's very strong grounds (for a lawsuit). I think it's very clear grounds, too."
Associated Press writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.