Colorado Sheriffs Oppose Transfer of “Gitmo” Prisoners to Nearby Jails Ensminger and Elder Among Group Signers- Rick Langenberg

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Don’t bring dangerous prisoners and renowned enemies of the United States, with terrorist ties and probable sympathizers, to our communities. We don’t need this type of threat and menace in Colorado.

That was the theme of a letter sent to President Obama and signed by a group of Colorado sheriffs, including Mike Ensminger and Bill Elder, the top law enforcement leaders in Teller and El Paso counties.

The letter, which was signed by 41 sheriffs in Colorado, adamantly opposes any plan to transfer prisoners from the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to high security state and federal prisons in nearby Florence and Canon City. These facilities have been cited as likely candidates for housing “Gitmo” prisoners, if the controversial detention center is closed. Since he took office, Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay facility and relocate many of these prisoners in other facilities in the United States, with Colorado high security prisons receiving much consideration. The White House has mulled plans to relocate about 53 Guantanamo detainees to prisons in the United States, including Colorado.

But Colorado sheriffs have one basic reply to this possible transfer of extremely dangerous prisoners: “Over our dead body.”
In a strongly worded letter, the Colorado sheriffs expressed much concern over such a transfer, contending that it could endanger the state and local communities. Moreover, they see this transfer as setting the stage for a possible terrorist attack or symbolic protest to free these prisoners.

“We believe it would be dangerously naïve not to recognize that a civilian prison with an untold number of enemy combatant inmates, located in our state would provide a very tempting target for anyone wishing to either free these detainees or simply wishing to make a political statement,” stated the sheriffs in their letter.

Ensminger, who serves as board member for the County Sheriffs of Colorado group, echoed similar sentiments and hopes the letter conveys an important message to President Obama. “We hope it will help,” said the sheriff, who like most law enforcement leaders is concerned about the prospects of housing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in the backyard of communities in southern Colorado. “If we can thwart crime in our community, that’s our responsibility,” added Ensminger. “We don’t want them in Colorado. Would you want them next to your community?”

Ensminger, who Is no newcomer in clashes with the White House over law enforcement issues, such as gun control, noted that the probable site for many of these detainees is located extremely close to Teller County. As the sheriff, he said he is bound by law to protect the county and its citizens as much as possible. He doesn’t see how a transfer of Guantanamo Bay to Fremont County prisons would work in the best interests of the citizens of Teller County.

The sheriffs have many political allies in their fight to keep these detainees out of Colorado. The U.S. Congress has already passed a spending bill that would bar President Obama from moving Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. soil. But this wouldn’t prevent Obama from using his executive authority to facilitate the move.

Plus, the image of Guantanamo Bay, and the controversy over jailing detainees without civilian court proceedings following the war against terrorism, has weighed heavily on the White House. The Guantanamo Bay prison issue emerged as a political thorn for both the Obama and the earlier George W. Bush administrations. Shortly after he took office, Obama announced plans to shut down the Guantanamo Bay facility within a year. But this deadline has encountered many logistic setbacks, capped by renewed tensions in Iraq and Afghanistan..

Colorado’s prison facilities in Fremont County already house some of the world’s renowned terrorists, such s Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in civilian court in the Sept. 11, 2001 bombings.

Law officers say they are confident about the security of these facilities, but believe that housing the Guantanamo Bay detainees, many of whom were previously involved in terrorist attacks, and are renowned enemies of the U.S., would send the wrong message. At its peak, the facilities in Guantanamo Bay housed close to 800 detainees, including many Taliban enemy combatants.

This letter, though, has its opponents. Democratic critics and leaders of certain progressive groups have accused the sheriffs of playing politics with the issue, noting that the Fremont County state and federal facilities currently house some of the most horrific prisoners in the world.