MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press Writer BILLINGS
Hardin officials say they want to fill the city's vacant jail with the priso n e r s n ow h o u s e d a t Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but the three members of Montana's U.S. congressional delegation oppose the idea. The development authority in Hardin, a city of 3,400 people bordering the Crow Indian Reservation, built the $27 million, 460-bed jail two years ago. The plan was to run the jail privately and contract with outside jurisdictions for prisoners. With the jail still empty and its construction loans in default, the City Council says it could be used to house Guantanamo's 240 terror suspects while they await trial. The council passed a resolution supporting the proposal on a 5-0 vote on Tuesday. "Somebody has to stand up and put (the Guantanamo prisoners) in their backyards. It's our patriotic duty," said Greg Smith, director of the city's Two Rivers Authority. The state's congressional delegation shot down the idea. "Not on my watch," U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said. The Democrat said the detainees' presence would be a security risk to the community and exceed the capacity of the U.S. District Court in Billings, which would have jurisdiction over their cases. Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg said in a statement that he'd toured the jail last week and supported efforts to put it to use. But he said the detainees didn't belong in Montana. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester also said he opposed the proposal. The Democrat said he "would support other efforts to find a viable use for the Two Rivers facility." Undeterred, Smith said he would work around the delegation and "keep pushing in Washington." "I will stop when they bring prisoners to my door," he said. Hardin officials have been looking for tenants for the jail since its completion in the summer of 2007. Attempts to land contracts with the federal Bureau of Prisons and Montana Department of Corrections have been rejected. Smith said the city has sent out marketing packages to all 50 states, and the jail has hosted visits by prison officials from Colorado, Wyoming and other jurisdictions. Smith said the city's chances of getting the Guantanamo prisoners were slim. He insisted detaining them would not be different from handling any other kind of prisoner. "You have hardened criminals in jail all around the state, you have sexual offenders. When they're in jail, they're not a whole lot different," he said.