Gitmo Terrorists: One Town Says Bring 'em On

Hardin, Mont., has empty high security prison; council wants detainees there.

ByABC News
May 24, 2009, 8:29 PM

HARDIN, Mont., May 24, 2009— -- The stores on Hardin's Main Street are closed and trains don't stop in the town anymore.

Hardin is in the heart of the poorest county in Montana. The only thing that shimmers in the early morning sun is the razor wire surrounding the $27 million Two Rivers Detention Center.

The brand-new jail is 92,000 square feet and has the capacity to hold 464 inmates.

But since its completion two years ago, it hasn't held a thing except Greg Smith's hopes. Smith is the economic development director for Hardin and says the town's outlook is pretty grim.

To try to brighten that outlook, Smith is leading the campaign to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the Big Sky country in Montana if Gitmo is closed, as President Obama has promised to do.

The prison is fully stocked with towels, blankets, shelves of orange jumpsuits, shoes and even boxer shorts. It was built with private dollars and with the support of Montana's former governor, Judy Martz.

But the state's new governor, Brian Schweitzer, doesn't support it and a long legal battle has kept the cells empty.

The facility itself was constructed to house maximum security prisoners. There are 36 solitary confinement cells where the truly dangerous would spend all day locked up alone in a private cell.

Smith has an answer to local safety concerns.

"If someone doesn't think it's secure, come on in. We'll lock you up for a few days and see how you do," Smith said.

Those assurances haven't quieted the complaints of all of the town's 3,400 residents.

"I would probably buy a gun or have it in my house," Hardin resident Pam Feller said when asked how she would react to the prison being opened.

"Lock your pickup, lock your doors," Crystal Uffleman said. "It would be a quite a change."

Despite some residents' concerns, the Hardin city council has voted unanimously to ask Obama to transfer the terrorists here from Gitmo.

Backers say turning this into a federal prison could bring more than 100 jobs to a community where unemployment is above 10 percent.