Reports of President Obama’s intent to close Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was hot national news during his first days in office, so naturally a discussion started in my senior government class. With all of us well aware of the empty, 464-bed Two Rivers Detention Center in our town of Hardin, Montana, it didn’t take long for our witty minds to put two and two together. Gitmo detainees in our hometown…what a laugh! After all, it did sound crazy. Needless to say, crazy became reality within a few months.
Two Rivers Authority, Hardin’s Economic Development branch, has let the sand of two years and $27 million run through their hour glass with the detention center still empty. In an effort to fill this jail, TRA has decided they want to bring terrorists to a town of 3,500, and to a facility next to the local grocery store no less; all in the name of patriotism, but mostly finances. While Hardin community members may prefer the sex offenders that TRA put in an RFP (request for proposal) for, suspected terrorists make just as good occupants.
Why do we have an empty prison?
Naturally, you're probably wondering how a small town ends up with a completely equipped, but vacant, prison facility. In a nutshell, the very beginnings of the concept for a new detention facility were fostered during the administration of then-Governor Judy Martz. When no one in the state rose to the occasion, the town of Hardin decided to step up, knowing they could fit the bill and benefit from the jobs that such a facility would provide.
After undocumented promises were made and Two Rivers was more than halfway finished, then-Attorney General Mike McGrath blocked the new jail from housing out-of-state inmates. Another blow was delivered for the one-two knockout when current governor Brian Schweitzer said the space Hardin volunteered just wasn't needed for the state of Montana. TRA has since pursued litigation against the state, getting the green light to house any prisoners they want--even 240 enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay.
And now, two years after completion, the money bonds used to build Two Rivers are due. So there is even more pressure to fill beds. With support of the Hardin City Council and none from the Montana Congressional delegation, ‘Gitmo North’ has become a community affair and the state’s worst nightmare. Luckily for the locals, the matter is not under the state’s jurisdiction, but under the federal government’s jurisdiction. Prospects of facilities to house the prisoners from Cuba are currently being reviewed by the powers that be in Washington D.C.
Hardin’s Economic Development Director claims that the new facility can be retrofitted within weeks for the Gitmo tenants. Not only that, Two Rivers boasts a modern, empty facility in the flats of rural Montana. These influential points were most likely highlighted in TRA’s letter to President Obama, sent last week. And with a national spotlight from media outlets like Good Morning America, Fox News, and most recently Time magazine, little ol’ Hardin, Montana, is in the middle of a very public debate.
Hardin should take the Guantanamo Bay prisoners
As strange as it sounds saying this, I think my hometown should be the next Guantanamo Bay. The way I see it, we have a missing puzzle piece that the federal government needs. Hardin needs to make the best out of our empty prison, especially when that empty prison can be used to help our country. It would produce 110 high-paying jobs to further stimulate our small-town economy.
As bad as it is to want our nation’s enemies within Hardin city limits, more good than bad could come from this opportunity. Taking a look at the bigger picture, there are also more benefits to be had: Obama is closing Gitmo with intentions to help make peace with the Middle East. What patriot wouldn’t want to contribute to this cause of peace? Not to mention it’s been crushing for my whole town to see such a nice facility stand empty for so many months.
But with Hardin in big national news for the first time ever, I fear that my hometown may be getting their hopes too high. Because really, this whole effort is a lost cause if Congress doesn’t approve the transfer of detainees to the United States. Remember that closing Gitmo started out as a campaign promise; we all know how reliable those can be.
There is one thing to look forward to: the publicity pay-off. It’s national news that Hardin, Montana, has an empty prison ready for inmates. Even further, TRA’s very public pursuance of the detainees, even if only a publicity stunt, builds pressure to fill the Two Rivers Detention Center. Time only stands in the way of things finally going our way, Gitmo tenants or not.