Gitmo terror suspects not welcome in Pensacola

The possibility that they might be housed at the naval station irks some, worries others.

Published April 8, 2007

PENSACOLA - Residents don't plan to dust off their red carpets if the U.S. government decides to relocate terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to the military brig at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

"Oh, I don't think so," said Kim Weishuhn, 42, a bartender at the Malibu Lounge in Warrington, just a few miles from Pensacola Naval Air Station. "Oh my God - if that happens, I'm moving."

"I think it (stinks)," said Ed Miller, 66, who lives in Navy Point, just across from the base. "They don't have enough security out there, so just let them stay in Cuba."

With pressure to shut down the Guantanamo prison mounting, the House Armed Services Committee last week released the names of 17 U.S. bases that could house suspected terrorists.

With the exception of the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which is already at capacity, none of the U.S. brigs is large enough to hold all of Guantanamo's 385 detainees.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, said Friday he opposed the transfer of any Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S.

"It's obvious some in Congress want to bring these detainees to the American shore," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to keep that from happening."

Pensacola Naval Air Station officials declined to comment.

But according to the base's Web site, the Naval Brig/CCU Pensacola houses a maximum of 36 prisoners from all military branches.

A short-term correctional facility, the brig houses prisoners who represent a wide range of crimes - everything from attempted murder to desertion. The majority of the prisoners are between ages 18 and 22.

They also expressed concern that sympathizers might target Pensacola to release the suspects or attack Pensacola in retaliation.

"We'll definitely be a target," said Tracy Webb, 37, of Myrtle Grove. "It's really scary."

Others agreed.

"We're already a target here," said Ann Sullivan, 56, of Pensacola. "This is just going to make it worse."

Others said bringing the terror suspects to the mainland could be harmful to not only Pensacola but also to the rest of the nation.

"Where they're at now, well, if they're going to get away, they got to swim from down there," said Michael Myrick, 45, of Pensacola. "We don't need these people so close to the (military) people who are training here. We don't need that mix."

Others oppose housing the suspects in Pensacola but aren't worried that Pensacola would become a terrorist target.

"Why would they want to waste a bomb on Pensacola?" asked B.T. Smith, 83, of Pensacola. "If they're so bad, we should just send them back to their own country."

Robert Joye, 60, of Pensacola said if the terror suspects are held here, many civilians who travel to the base for business or leisure - such as the golf course, forts and National Museum of Naval Aviation - might not have the same access.

"It would make it hell to get on base," Joye said. "It's hard enough to get on the base since 9/11. It's just not a good thing."

Local law enforcement officials were less concerned about the possibility of terror suspects on the base.

"I'm confident the Navy can handle the security aspect here over there," said Chip Simmons, Pensacola's assistant police chief.

There also are questions about what would happen if the terrorists are brought stateside and possibly given access to the U.S. court system.

The U.S. Marshals Service, which was on security detail whenever Saddam Hussein was moved in Iraq, could beef up services here if suspected terrorists were transported from the base to the local federal court, local Marshals Service spokesman Dominic Guadagnoli said.

"If they have to go to federal court, obviously there is going to be more security than normal," he said.