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Feds to visit Mich. prison for Gitmo detainees

The Obama administration is sending officials to Michigan to tour a state prison that could be used to hold terrorism suspects now detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Obama administration officials plan on Thursday to tour a soon-to-be-shuttered Michigan state prison considered an option to hold terrorism suspects now detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Two government officials said representatives of the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security departments would visit a state prison in Standish. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the visit.

An Obama administration official said the visit was intended to gather information about the facility and no decisions had been made about where to move the detainees. Multiple options are being considered, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The maximum-security prison about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northwest of Detroit and the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, are among the sites being considered to house the detainees if the prison in Cuba is closed by early 2010, as ordered by President Barack Obama.

Pressure to save employer
Public pressure is mounting to do something to save the Standish prison, the region's largest employer with about 340 workers. Arenac County's unemployment rate already is 17.3 percent and the prison could soon close in a round of state budget cuts.

"If Standish Max becomes vacant, the impact would be devastating," said state Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican who represents the region in the Michigan Legislature. "Arenac County would be a ghost town."

California, Pennsylvania and possibly some other states have talked with Michigan officials about paying to house some of their prisoners in Standish. That appears to be the preferred option, but many in the area would be open to taking Guantanamo prisoners if everything else fails.

Local residents want the prison to remain open, but some are skittish about the prospects of suspected terrorists being housed in their small, relatively rural town.

"There's a difference between a homegrown criminal and a jihadist," said Dave Munson, a Standish restaurant and bar owner. "I think we're going to be a target. They like 'soft' targets so they're going to come after us if their people are there."

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said she would rather take in prisoners from other states, such as California, than the Guantanamo detainees.