DENVER – A team from the U.S. Defense Department will visit both a state and a federal prison in Colorado to assess their possible use for housing detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, senior U.S. officials said Friday.
The visit comes as the Obama administration struggles to shut down the Guantanamo detention center and find a location within the U.S. to house its detainees. Within the next two weeks, the team will visit the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City and a medium-security federal prison in Florence, officials said.
The Pentagon team also has surveyed the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. The reviews assess construction costs and other changes needed to house the detainees and conduct military commission trials.
In Colorado, the medium-security facility is on the same grounds as the maximum-security prison known as Supermax. It would need upgrades, said Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.
"These efforts are consistent with our commitment to working with Congress to close Guantanamo, and are intended to help inform Congress of how we can meet this goal and what it will cost," Ross said.
Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama, but the effort has faced hurdles, including staunch opposition among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
There are 114 detainees currently in the detention center, and 53 are eligible for transfer. The remaining 61 have been deemed too dangerous to release to another country. Finding countries to take the detainees has also been difficult because the transfers cannot be approved unless officials believe the detainees will not return to terrorism or the battlefield upon release and that there is a host country willing to take them and guarantee they will secure them.
Legislation moving through Congress would retain and, in some cases, increase current restrictions on transferring detainees out of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The bill continues to ban the transfer of detainees to the United States or construction to house them on U.S. soil. It also calls on the White House to send Congress a plan on how it plans to close the facility and handle future detainees.
Colorado's Supermax, dubbed "Alcatraz of the Rockies," already houses terrorists. The prison's 420 or so inhabitants include Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in civilian court of the September 11 attacks, and Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was transferred to Supermax in July.
The state prison, located about 10 miles from the federal complex, has been vacant since 2012. The state shuttered the all-solitary-confinement prison because of declining prison population.
Colorado's congressional Republicans quickly vowed to fight the transfer.
"I call on the Obama Administration to immediately halt any consideration of this irresponsible idea," said Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.
Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was more measured.
A spokeswoman said Hickenlooper "wants to have a full understanding of the costs, risk and impacts for Colorado."