By Mitch Meador, Staff Writer
The Lawton Constitution
Published Thursday, February 19, 2009
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe toured the Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Sill on Wednesday as he builds a case to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open and prevent possible relocation of detainees to U.S. soil.
A list that appeared in March 2007 included Fort Sill as one of 17 potential relocation points for terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Forts Riley and Leavenworth in Kansas also made the list, Inhofe said.
“I’ve taken on the responsibility to keep Gitmo open,” he said. “All these people who are saying you have to close this thing, they try to say that there’s been torture and abuse of detainees. It’s a lie. It’s just flat not true.
“We’re building our case, to recognize why we have to leave the 245 people there right now. Of the 245 detainees in Gitmo, 170 of them cannot be repatriated. Their countries don’t want them back in. Of those, there are 110 who are the really bad guys,” Inhofe said.
The senator said closing Gitmo will not stop any kind of activity in the courts or on the tribunals.
“They could end up in our court system,” he warned. “They’ve identified 17 areas of military installations where they could be putting some of these terrorists, or these detainees. I want to make sure that’s not Oklahoma. ... I’ve been on an extensive tour of our facility here on Fort Sill, and I think I’ve built up a pretty good case to show them that we need to keep that place open down there. And I had very good news just a moment ago. The new attorney general’s going down there in the next couple of days. The fact that he’s going down there means he’s listening and knows that they can’t close it.
“The other problem we have is, as we escalate our activity in Afghanistan, there will be that many more detainees, and the Afghans have two major prisons there, Kandahar and Bagram, and they can only take people from Afghanistan,” Inhofe said.
There is no place else in the world but Gitmo to take detainees from other countries, he said.
“It’s one of the great resources that we have. We’ve had it since 1903. It’s a good bargain, and we only pay $4,000 a year for it. We can’t allow that to close,” Inhofe said.
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission recommended that Fort Sill’s Regional Correctional Facility is one of several to be consolidated into the Midwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth. Inhofe said he doesn’t think there would be a lot of resistance to that here if it did happen, considering that “Fort Sill, of all the installations throughout America, has been the greatest beneficiary of all five BRAC rounds.
“There’s not one military establishment anywhere in America that has had greater mission increase and increased functions than Fort Sill,” he added.
Fort Sill made clear that the opinions voiced are those of the senator and not anyone at the post. Fort Sill’s official position is as follows: “The Regional Correctional Facility is still open, but it’s slated to close under the latest BRAC decision, and there is no specific closure date yet. Fort Sill has received no contact from the Army or the Department of Defense about a proposal to transfer Gitmo prisoners to the Fort Sill Regional Correctional Facility.”
Inhofe had other reasons to be here. One was to witness a demonstration of the pre-Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) system, which BAE Systems is introducing to keep Paladin howitzers viable in the coming decades. He also got a briefing on the progress of the Non-Line of Sight (NLOS) Cannon to be assembled at Elgin.
“The best thing that I can ever remember happening to the state of Oklahoma was to be successful in getting that site in Elgin, Okla. That’s the first of 15 elements in the Future Combat System. If everything goes well there, as it appears to be right now, that could be a site maybe for all the rest of them, or at least some of the rest of them, and that would be a great thing for Southwest Oklahoma,” Inhofe said.
The senator said one of the things he’s trying to do is put a floor into the amount of military spending.
“During the last 100 years, it’s averaged 5.7 percent of our (gross domestic product). And at the end of the Clinton years it got down as low as 2.8 percent. It’s now at 3.6 percent, so we’re trying to put a floor of 4 percent,” he said.
At Altus AFB, Inhofe was briefed by military leadership on current issues facing the base, and he got to see the KC-135R flight and air refueling simulators.
“The future looks good for Altus Air Force Base, but we must continue working hard to attain new missions at Altus and improve operations on the base,” he said. “Though the 54th and 55th Air Refueling Squadrons are merging to make the 54th, today I learned that the intent is for the 55th Air Refueling Squadron to reopen as soon as Altus gains the KC-X mission. ...
“Altus Air Force Base has also had great success in energy savings and is currently leading the pack in the Air Force’s (Air Education Training Command) Energy Initiative Award Program that measures percent energy reduction against a three-year average consumption. Altus has already reduced their consumption 16.6 percent in the first five months of the year-long program, and stands to win the $1.5 million prize for quality of life improvements at the base. They have also been very successful in greater fuel savings because of increased teamwork between operations and maintenance on predicting fuel requirements. The base has seen $80,000 savings per day, projecting $2 million in savings over a year,” Inhofe said.