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La Plata County sheriff declines to sign Gitmo letter

‘We are a long way from the Supermax facility in Florence’
Smith

Calling the move too political, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith chose not to sign a petition sent earlier this week by a group of 41 Colorado sheriffs against the transfer of Guantanamo Bay inmates to Fremont County.

Obama, who vowed to close the facility in Cuba that confines 780 suspected terrorists, has looked at other sites in Kansas and South Carolina, as well as the prisons in Freemont County.

On Monday, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith made public the petition, which states the sheriffs are “concerned that utilizing current civilian prisons in our state would significantly – and unnecessarily – endanger our citizens.”

The letter goes on to say that housing the detainees from Guantanamo, started in 2002 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would attract terrorist “sympathizers who would mount an attack … or commit other acts of terror.”

The letter adds: “We believe it would be dangerously naive not to recognize that a civilian prison with an untold number of enemy combatant inmates, located in our state, would provide a very tempting target for anyone wishing to either free these detainees or simply wishing to make a political statement.”

In Southwest Colorado, both Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez and Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin signed the petition. Smith, as well as San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad, chose not to.

“I vetted the issue with my staff, and felt it’s just not something politically I felt I need to be involved in,” Smith told The Durango Herald. Smith said he read the letter that went out to all 64 sheriffs, but he said Durango is too far removed for this particular issue.

“I think it’s a really big political issue for some people, I don’t think it is for us,” he said.

“We’re very far removed from it. I’m focused on what’s going on with the citizens in our county. If I felt like it would create adverse risks for us, I would get involved.”

Supermax already holds some of the nation’s most dangerous terrorists, including Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Ramzi Yousef, who coordinated the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Smith said the presence of those high-profile criminals has never posed a danger to La Plata County.

“We are a long way from the Supermax facility in Florence,” he said.

Any relocation of inmates would require approval of Congress, a move opposed by a majority of Washington lawmakers. On Tuesday, the AP reported Congress passed a defense policy bill that bans the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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