STANDISH, Mich. - Federal and state officials visited a maximum-security prison in rural Michigan yesterday to begin assessing its suitability to house Guantanamo Bay detainees.
About a dozen state officials were joined by 18 representatives from the Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security departments and the Bureau of Prisons on the tour of the lockup in Standish, said Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Standish is about 145 miles north of Detroit.
There are 229 suspected al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other foreign fighters at Guantanamo Bay prison.
"The visit to Standish is to do a preliminary site survey. No final decisions have been made," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said about the survey.
The tour was similar to one given recently to a corrections team from California, which has shown interest in sending inmates from its overcrowded prisons to Michigan and is expected to make a decision within a couple of weeks, Mr. Marlan said. Michigan also has received inquiries about housing inmates from Pennsylvania.
The region around Standish is hurting economically, with an unemployment rate of more than 17 percent, and some residents welcome bringing in the Guantanamo detainees if it will prevent closing down the prison, which is the area's largest employer with about 340 workers.
Others fear bringing the Guantanamo detainees to Standish would make the town a target.
"The problem I have is, you almost are putting a bull's-eye on the whole entire area. There are just too many things that could go wrong," said Tom Kerrins, the chief steward for the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union representing prison workers in Standish.
Mr. Kerrins said the union opposes sending the Gitmo prisoners to Standish in part because it doubts the jobs of watching over them would go to the state officers working there now and would instead go to federal officers.
"They're still going to kick us down the road. They're going to use their own people," the Gladwin resident said yesterday outside the prison.