BILLINGS, Montana – President Barack Obama has 240 terror suspects he has said will be moved out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. The city of Hardin has a brand-new empty jail.
A match made in heaven? Hardin officials think so; Montana's congressional delegation thinks not.
The development authority in Hardin, a city of 3,400 people bordering the Crow Indian Reservation, 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 Tuesday 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.
"Not on my watch," U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said.
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.
Smith said the city has sent out marketing packages to all 50 states, and the jail has hosted visits by prison officials from Colorado, Wyoming and other jurisdictions. Attempts to land contracts with the federal Bureau of Prisons and Montana Department of Corrections have been rejected.
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.
Hardin Council President Harry Steinmetz referred questions on the issue to Smith.