Not in my backyard, not in my country; People against Gitmo transfer speak up at town hall
STANDISH — People adamantly against transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility (SMF) flowed to the Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church in Standish for an anti-Guantanamo Bay to Standish town hall meeting on Thursday.
After a brief introduction by Standish businessman Dave Munson, Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R – Holland) was the first to speak out against Gitmo detainees coming to Michigan, citing a lack of information and national security as reasons for his thinking.
“One thing I’m pushing for and I hope you’re pushing for, is a process that is transparent,” Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said. “These are people that are committed to destroying our way of life.”
According to Hoekstra, if the detainees were imprisoned on American soil, they would enjoy the same civil liberties all Americans currently do.
“I’m not about extending these liberties to them,” he said, adding President Bush also attempted to close Gitmo, but was unsuccessful, adding he hopes the same occurs for President Obama. “I hope he finds it impossible.
“Keeping Guantanamo open is a good idea.”
Hoekstra was asked later if a federal detention center in Florence, Colo., which also houses terrorists, was ever the site of an attempted jailbreak by terrorists’ allies.
Hoekstra said that the Colorado facility, which he said only detains terrorists captured on American soil, not in foreign countries during wartime, had never had an incident like that.
The Florence, Colo. facility is currently holding Zacarias Moussaoui, who was a co-conspirator in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Moussaoui, a French citizen, moved to the U.S. prior to 2001. He was sentenced to a life sentence by the United States District Court for the Eastern Division of Virginia (http://www.usdoj.gov/ag/moussaouiindictment.htm). Hoekstra says terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are also held there.
Hoekstra was the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until 2006.
After Hoekstra spoke, David Littmann, Senior Economist for Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, talked about the bad economics of the move.
Littman said the closing of the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility was the result of bad moves in Lansing and added that “bullies” in Washington who were trying to “ramrod terrorists down our throat in the state of Michigan.”
He added that the administration should continue to use the pre-existing facility that is already paid for in Cuba.
As for public safety, Littman said Gitmo detainees were “human trash,” and said they shouldn’t be placed near Detroit, which due to its high Muslim population, he called “Home to a cluster of Hezbollah sympathizers.”
He also said privatizing prisons should have been looked at long ago in Michigan.
“Lansing has been acting irresponsibly for far too long,” Littman said. “Michigan today, in my estimate of an economy, is an economic poster child for an economically depressed area.”
Debra Burlingame, Founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America and sister of the pilot of the plane which was crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, gave the day’s most personal account when opposing the Gitmo closing and prospective move to Michigan.
“These detainees are not like ordinary criminals,” Burlingame said, adding one should not only be concerned about terrorists escaping from the facility. “You have to be concerned with homegrown terrorists taking interest in these facilities.”
According to Burlingame, she spoke with President Obama in February and asked him why he couldn’t rehabilitate the image of Gitmo, rather than closing it altogether, since she says the President told her it had become a symbol of shame.
“He (Obama) shrugged. He put his head down and he said nothing,” she said. “You are owed a better answer than that.”
Burlingame also said that 450 physical attacks on guards at Guantanamo Bay have taken place and that terrorists wouldn’t hesitate to attack soft targets on American soil, if a Guantanamo Bay-type facility was moved here. She also said ones released in court proceedings would stay in the area, although Congressman Bart Stupak (D – Menominee) said at a meeting with Arenac County officials recently that detainees released from Gitmo would be extradited to their homeland.
Tom Kerrins, chief steward for the Michigan Corrections Organization, and State Sen. Jim Barcia (D – Bay City) also sat on the panel at the meeting and expressed concern about the overall proposal and lack of information available on it.
After all members of the meeting’s panel spoke, the floor was open for questions and comments from the public.
Jeff McQueen said his biggest concern about Gitmo coming to Standish was “Who breaks them (detainees) out? … How will they break them out?
“I see all Muslims as my cousins,” McQueen added after calling himself a “Son of Abraham.” “But these guys are true threats.”
Standish resident Kelly Kimball asked about eminent domain, saying she has heard the federal government would seize one-quarter mile to one mile around the prison.
Hoekstra answered her, saying her question was an example of the many unanswered ones that must be addressed before a proposal on Gitmo moving to Standish is considered.
One person in the crowd, Brent Snelgrove, a Standish businessman, agreed that there was a lack of information, but showed displeasure with one-sidedness of the meeting.
“I’m disappointed in this panel,” he said. “I don’t see both sides of the conversation
“20 years ago I heard some of the same concerns… almost identical,” he added.
Snelgrove also made note of the Patriot Act and technological advances in locating people that have been made in order to keep Americans safer.
Hoekstra was also asked about intelligence regarding Sept. 11 and the War in Iraq, since the intelligence regarding both has been criticized over the years.
"Saddam Hussein did everything he could to convince us that he had them (weapons of mass destruction)," Hoekstra said. "I'm not going to stand up here and say that we ever have perfect intelligence. ... We don't have perfect intelligence."
He added that 9/11 was not the result of faulty intelligence or a mistake in that area.
About 250 people, most from the Standish area, attended the town hall.