If Guantanamo Closes, Colorado Prison Braces For More Inmates
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's continue the theme here, things President Obama might want to do that Republicans say are a bad idea. This includes Obama's plan to shut down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The president announced his plan yesterday.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is about closing a chapter in our history. It reflects the lessons that we've learned since 9/11, lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.
GREENE: The president did acknowledge how hard it will be to convince Congress. One part of his plan causing a lot of concern is a proposal to transfer dozens of detainees from Guantanamo to U.S. soil. And one likely location would be the country's highest security prison. It's known as Supermax, and it's located in a dry desolate area near Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
MIKE PATTERSON: There's a lot of rattlesnakes out there. My sons and I go out to the area sometimes, although you don't get too close to the Supermax. That's - you know, they don't let you near there.
GREENE: That's the voice of Mike Patterson. He's the city manager in nearby Florence, Colo. He and other residents are used to living near a prison that houses high-profile prisoners, like the Boston Marathon bomber, the Unabomber and one of the 9/11 co-conspirators, which does sometimes lead to threats against the prison.
PATTERSON: We've already had an example of an individual who put on Facebook his plans to come and attack the Supermax because he wanted to remove the al-Qaeda people that are already there. And unfortunately, had he done something like that, he would've not gotten anywhere near the prisoners. He would've simply hurt guards and people who are our friends and, you know, don't have anything to do with what he's trying to attack.
GREENE: So, Mike Patterson says people in Florence are not worried about dangerous criminals trying to break out.
PATTERSON: We're not worried about anything that's going to happen inside the facility. What we're worried about is wherever these folks go, it brings an additional target on that community that comes with those folks. And unfortunately, there are people out there who, on both sides, will want to either get them out or just try to hurt them. And it's our community or whatever community they go to that would be caught in between. That's our greatest concern.
GREENE: Have a lot of people been talking about this over the last 24 hours or so?
PATTERSON: It's been a really big topic over the last, you know, the last year. But basically, after the Paris attacks, the president had, from what we gathered, had decided that they weren't going to do this, but now it's back. And we are a community that does look at it and accept that, you know, we're comfortable with the prisoners, et cetera. So it is something that folks here have talked about. I haven't heard a whole lot in the last 24 hours. I think it's gotten to the point where this is the third time around, and folks are like, well, OK, let's see what happens.
GREENE: Third time around, you mean that this has come before. The president's been talking about this for a while.
GREENE: Congress said he's not allowed to do this. He acknowledged that, but now coming around again and offering this plan, the community's been sort of through this before.
PATTERSON: Right. And we're certainly no constitutional scholars, but we're not certain whether he can or can't. We've heard from some who tell us that, in fact, the president has the power to essentially do this because he's got the power to conduct war, and conducting war includes deciding what to do with detainees, prisoners of war. So we're not sure if he has the power or not, but it's definitely something that has our attention.
GREENE: Well, if - it might be worth knowing that there are constitutional scholars, many of them in Washington, D.C., and there's a debate raging in this city...
GREENE: ...As to whether the president has the power to do it. So you're not the only ones who can't exactly come to a conclusion.
PATTERSON: So yeah, it's just one of those things that we're looking for a conclusion soon. If it's going to happen here or, frankly, wherever it's going to happen, I hope that the folks in D.C. will immediately engage in conversation with wherever they're planning to send it. While the debate is happening in Washington, D.C., let that local community also have some say and have some discussion with that local community about what you're going to do to make sure that they're safe.
GREENE: Mr. Patterson, thanks very much for talking to us this morning.
PATTERSON: You're welcome.
GREENE: That's Mike Patterson. He is city manager in Florence, Colo., near the country's highest security prison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.