Federal authorities began discussions this week on where to send Guantanamo detainees who cannot be tried or transferred to another country, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told senators Thursday.
Gates said he realizes that virtually every member of Congress will file legislation prohibiting the U.S. from sending the detainees to a facility in their state.
He said the Justice Department is still trying to determine how many of the 241 detainees at the military prison in Cuba will not be taken by other countries or tried, and there is no decision yet on where the remainder will go. Gates said the total would likely be between 50-100.
Pressed to give senators a hint on locations under consideration, Gates demurred.
Montana town wants detainees
One town whose local officials voted to lobby for prisoners is Hardin, Mont., which has a brand-new empty jail. But Montana's congressional delegation is not as enthusiastic.
Hardin, population 3,400, built the $27 million, 460-bed jail two years ago and has been looking for tenants ever since. Its construction loans are in default.
The City Council voted 5-0 earlier this month in favor of a resolution supporting a proposal to house terror suspects currently detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay while they await trial.
"Somebody has to stand up and put (the Guantanamo prisoners) in their backyards. It's our patriotic duty," said Greg Smith, director of the city's Two Rivers Authority.
Smith acknowledged that the city's chances of getting the Guantanamo prisoners are slim but insisted that holding them would not be different from handling any other kind of prisoner.
"You have hardened criminals in jail all around the state, you have sexual offenders. When they're in jail, they're not a whole lot different," he said.
U.S. senator: No way
"Not on my watch," responded U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
The Montana Democrat said the detainees' presence would be a security risk to the community and exceed the capacity of the U.S. District Court in Billings, which would have jurisdiction over their cases.
The rest of the state's congressional delegation — Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg — agreed that bringing Guantanamo prisoners to Montana is a bad idea, though they support efforts to find some other use for the jail.