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Pentagon plan to close Guantanamo expected; details suggest Pacific Northwest prison on short list

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A guards sits in a tower overlooking Guantanamo detention camp, at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s plan outlining the long-stalled effort to the Bay detention centre, expected in the coming week, suggests the Centennial Correctional Facility in Colorado could be one place to send detainees whom officials believe should never be released, U.S. officials said.

The plan represents a last-gasp effort by the Obama administration to convince opponents in Congress that dangerous detainees who can’t be transferred safely to other countries should be housed in a U.S.-based prison.

According to administration officials, the plan makes no recommendations on which of seven U.S. sites is preferred and provides no rankings.

But it lists the prison sites in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas that a Pentagon assessment team reviewed in recent months.

Any decision to select a U.S. facility would require congressional approval — something U.S. lawmakers say is unlikely. At the same time, dangerous prisoners are not new to Colorado. The Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, which has been dubbed “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” already holds convicted terrorists, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the conspirators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Pentagon plan also lays out the broader effort to reduce the detainee population at through transfers to other countries. The centre now holds 112 detainees, and 53 are eligible for transfer. The rest are either facing trial by military commission or the government has determined that they are too dangerous to release but are not facing charges.

In order to approve a transfer, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter must conclude that 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.

As President Barack Obama heads into his final year in office, the effort is part of a push to keep his election promise to the detention centre at Bay, Cuba. But he is facing an uphill battle with Congress.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, has asked for an administration plan for the shutdown of . The Pentagon’s assessment team visits over the last few months were part of the effort to provide options for the relocation of detainees.

The facilities reviewed by the assessment team were the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Midwest Joint Regional Corrections Facility at Leavenworth, Kansas; the Consolidated Naval Brig, Charleston, South Carolina; the Federal Correctional Complex, which includes the medium, maximum and supermax facilities in Florence, Colorado; and the Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City, Colorado, also known as the Centennial Correctional Facility.

A Colorado senator made it clear this week that he opposes any move to relocate detainees to his state.

“I will not sit idly by while the president uses political promises to imperil the people of Colorado by moving enemy combatants from Cuba, Bay, to my state of Colorado,” Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said.

Later, Gardner told The Associated Press that “the pressure that this would put on our judicial system in Colorado is real. The challenges that could be brought through the legal system we’re not prepared for.”

Even as the White House pitches this latest plan to skeptical lawmakers, officials have not ruled out the possibility that Obama will try to the prison and move the remaining prisoners to the U.S. without congressional approval.

“I would not take anything off the table in terms of the president doing everything that he can to achieve this critically important national security objective,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said this week, when asked whether Obama would act unilaterally. “And this is a pretty transparent case of the United States Congress putting narrow political interests ahead of national security.”

The threat echoes Obama’s moves on immigration and gun control — both cases where he urged Congress to pass legislation and then used his executive authority when the bills failed.

McCain and others have said that an executive order to shutter would face fierce opposition, including efforts to reverse the decision through funding mechanisms.

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Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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