The California Yankee has a good piece up about where Obama will put the terrorists now that he’s closing Gitmo. Among the locations under consideration: the Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, the DoD’s only maximum security prison.
It just so happens that the DB is just a few miles from my house. I live in the town of Leavenworth. My husband works on Ft. Leavenworth’s installation. This is our home, and we don’t want to share it with detainees or those they’d draw here.
If you’ve never been to Leavenworth, it’s easy to imagine that the Disciplinary Barracks are behind massive walls, safely tucked away from polite society. A threat to no one. But that’s only if you haven’t been here. Those who’ve visited our town know better.
If you’ve actually driven on post — something which only requires showing the guards your driver’s license and proof of insurance — you know that, for all of its security, there’s no real separation between the DB and the community of Ft. Leavenworth.
Last year, for instance, I took a wrong turn en route to picking up my son at his summer day camp on post and almost wound up in the prison’s parking lot. It’s a scary building, as it should be, but until now it’s only been frightening for what it contains: the worst of the worst among the military.
With Gitmo closing, the DB just got more scary. Not because of what’s contained within it, but because filling it with terrorists and/or detainees brings an external threat: that, along with the military installation of Ft. Leavenworth, the sleepy little town surrounding it will itself become a target as well.
The enormity of that risk cannot be understated. The Command and General General Staff College (CGSC) located at Ft. Leavenworth is filled, at any given time, with 1,000+ U.S. and foreign military officers. The expansion of the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) adds to their number, as does the Battle Command Training Center.
In addition to military personnel, Ft. Leavenworth is home to thousands of families. Within jogging distance of the DB are three elementary schools and the high school that educate the children of personnel assigned to Ft. Leavenworth. In between are nestled the Commissary and P/X, the library, hospital, veterinary clinic, Post Office and chapel. Cars slowly drive along the streets on post all day. In other words, although it’s unlikely someone would escape from the DB, it’s even more unlikely they could escape unnoticed.
But it’s not escapees that are the big worry if Gitmo inmates are transferred to the DB on Ft. Leavenworth. It’s those who’d be interested in helping them escape, and the lengths to which they might be willing to go, particularly if such efforts would involve taking out a number of Americans.
The town of Leavenworth is separated from the Fort only by a patrolled chain link fence and manned through gates. To one side flows the Missouri river, a sluggish and wide expanse that draws campers to its banks along with bored fishermen. In the summer, the River Front Festival brings most of the town’s occupants to the shore for fireworks and festivities. And several times a year we’re down there sandbagging the thing to keep it within its bounds.
Crossing that river from the Missouri side brings drivers to Metropolitan Avenue, the main street passing Ft. Leavenworth. You can’t help noticing the post as you drive along Metropolitan, although the buffalo roaming in the field nearby seem rather incongruous. The rest of the town flows south from that street which is lined with gas stations, convenience stores and a rather popular steak house from which you can see the old DB’s guard tower.
In the small, 1950s-style roadside diner where I like to have breakfast on occasion, the subject has usurped Michael Vick as the topic of interest. In between cups of bitter coffee and plates of fried eggs with hashbrowns, Gitmo rules the day.
One man, whose house is across the street from Ft. Leavenworth, says he’d never be able to feel safe in his own home knowing that just across the way were the kind of folks responsible for 9/11. Yes, he says, he supposes they’re innocent until proven guilty. But — and he pauses here to take a swig of coffee for emphasis — is a belief in their innocence going to make it any less likely terrorists would try to liberate them?
A college student, amply decorated with what I’ll kindly refer to as “body art”, shakes his head. There’s no proof terrorists tried breaking out detainees from Gitmo, he argues. Around him, heads shake slowly and shoulders shrug. Is it really crazy to worry that housing detainees in the midst of a small Kansas town would make escape attempts more likely?
A voice clears. The conversation pauses. A grizzled old man whose winter work jumpsuit appears embedded with grease that’s older than the rest of us speaks up. He’s lived here all of his 73 years, he says. His parents moved here after his father retired because it’s a sane place for people interested in simple living. After his own military service he retired here, too, for the very same reason.
Like most senior citizens, he remembers a day when people didn’t lock their doors and windows. Those days may be gone, he says, but this is still a town where you can walk safely down the streets any time, day or night. It’s safe, he says, because our police force has kept pace with our population. Add a couple of hundred detainees — and any family members visiting to be near them — and that balance changes. And then what?
That, ultimately, is the question that haunts us all as we ponder an influx of what we’ve been told are the worst of the worst outside the military, these alleged terrorists: and then what?
Oh, sure, we’re all aware that the soldiers incarcerated within the DB are the military’s dregs but, horrifying though some may be, there is one comfort to be had: they’re still Americans. They’re criminals, to be sure, but they’ve not pledged the annihilation of our citizens, our way of life, our government.
This town is at the heart of the nation’s heartland. This is Americana at its finest. This is the kind of town that television and movies portray when they want to evoke feelings of patriotism and nostalgia. Whether it’s the flags lining every street on Memorial Day, or our Veteran’s Day parade in which everyone from the VFW to the Cub Scouts march, the carnival that happens every summer in Wal-Mart’s parking lot or the pancake breakfast with Santa every December down at City Hall, this is where Main Street USA really exists.
So know this, President Obama: if you put Gitmo detainees here, you aren’t just putting a target on the military installation that trains the majors of the combined services in leadership and then prepares their finest for battalion command at the School for Advanced Military Studies. You aren’t just making the Battle Command Training Cente and the post where the Center for Army Lessons Learned even more attractive to those who’d benefit most from wiping them out.
You put Gitmo detainees here amid in this sleepy little Kansas town which so perfectly represents everything America stands for, and you’re making a target of everyone who lives here. Oh, sure, the the Geneva Convention would call us non-combatants — innocents, even — but somehow, I don’t think terrorists and their pals give a hoot about such designations.