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Residents Reject Idea of Housing Guantanamo Detainees at Michigan Prison

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More than 200 people attended a town hall meeting at a church in Standish, Mich. on Aug. 20, cheering and clapping loudly in opposition to the idea of bringing Guantanamo detainees to their local prison. Video by Kari Lydersen/The Washington PostEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/The Washington Post

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By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

STANDISH, Mich., Aug. 20 -- More than 200 people gathered here Thursday to voice their concern that the federal government could transfer detainees from a facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the local prison, conjuring up images of terrorists holding busloads of schoolchildren hostage, firing shots in the church and poisoning the water supply.

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The meeting was dominated by opposition to the possibility, which surfaced two weeks ago, that the Obama administration would move some prisoners to facilities within U.S. borders, including Standish and Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The town hall meeting was organized by local tavern owner Dave Munson, who traveled to Washington in June to ask legislators about the possibility of moving Guantanamo detainees to Standish's maximum-security prison. That prison is scheduled to close in October if prisoners are not brought in from the federal system or another state.

At the time, Munson said he saw the idea as an economic lifeline for the town and the prison, which provides more than 300 jobs. Then he met U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) at a cocktail party and quickly changed his mind.

"He told me things that really scared the heck out of me," Munson said. "He told me about soft targets and safe zones, that if they came to this country they would have rights, visitors and friends would come who could be jihadists."

Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told those in the crowd that they have much to fear if the detainees are transferred to Standish, a town of 1,500 about 150 miles north of Detroit.

But state Sen. Jim Barcia (D), a former five-term congressman, said that the vocal town hall attendees, many recruited from other parts of the state by the group Act! For America, were wrong in insinuating that the federal government would force Guantanamo detainees on them. He said the idea of transferring detainees to Michigan was first floated by Michigan legislators seeking investment.

And Barcia said federal officials who toured the prison Aug. 13 indicated they would not send detainees to Standish in the face of intense local opposition. He said legislators and locals who are open to the idea skipped the town hall because "they probably thought they'd be subject to the same behavior we've seen at many town hall meetings about health-care reform."

Barcia, who said he had not taken a position on bringing detainees to Michigan, was among state senators who passed a resolution Wednesday demanding that the federal government share information with state legislators and Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) on detainees and their possible transfer.

Also Wednesday, Hoekstra refused to sign routine funding requests until the Pentagon releases more information about plans for transferring detainees. In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Hoekstra complained that the department was sharing information with Democratic legislators but ignoring his requests.

"Apparently, the Department is providing information only to Members of Congress who it believes are likely to agree with the Administration's policy on this matter," he wrote.

Hoekstra, a co-sponsor of the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which opposes the transfer or release in the United States of Guantanamo Bay detainees, was joined at the town hall by Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America.


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