President Barack Obama has a problem, and his newfound friend from last summer — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker — just might have the perfect solution. Imagine a Republican-turned-Independent governor coming to the aid of a Democrat President with a crisis solving win-win for everyone.
First, the problem: Gitmo. As in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama wants to empty the U.S. prison that houses terrorists there. This was one of his original promises when first elected. Now that he’s near the end of his final term in office, he’s got those old legacy thoughts rolling around in his head, and he wants to fulfill at least this one promise.
The Republican controlled Congress, however, is dead set against shutting down the Gitmo jail. The objection to the President’s plan?
“Illegal. Reckless. Unsafe,” in the words of Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
To be just a little more specific, it would appear most of Congress, including most of the members of the President’s own party, simply don’t like the idea of housing dangerous jihadists on U.S. territory.
“Congress has passed defense policy bills over the last several years that ban the transfer of detainees to the U.S. mainland,” The Hill reported in a story quoting Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat like Obama, saying “there are serious legal barriers and legitimate security concerns to be dealt with.”
Enter Gov. Walker: “Pst, pst. Mr. President. Have I got an island for you. It’s more remote than Cuba. It’s wet and windswept and no terrorists will be comfortably soaking up tropical sunshine here. And it’s already got most of the facilities you need to house criminals.”
Yes, we’re talking Adak, the 275-square-mile rock far out in the Aleutian Chain 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. The U.S. Navy decades ago built a world class 7,800-foot-long airstrip, a port and a city big enough to support 6,000 people on this chunk of rock, and then in 1997 it abandoned everything.
Think Alcatraz on steroids
Adak might be U.S. territory, but it’s not really U.S. territory. It so far out in the North Pacific Ocean that it’s closer to Anadyr, Russia, than Anchorage. And the only city on the island is on the verge of becoming a ghost town.
Most of the buildings now sit empty. There are only about 300 people left. A handful of them run what might be the world’s most remote gas station, pumping fuel for trawlers fishing the Bering Sea. Others work in a fish processing plant teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Alaska Public Media a month ago reported the Adak Cod Cooperative “could be finished by the end of January.”
There were once some jobs on the island cleaning up the environmental mess left by the military, but that clean up is pretty much over. This has left the Aleut Corp., which was ceded the developed part of the island when the military left, wondering what to do with its property.
One of Alaska’s 13 regional Native corporations, Aleut tried to pitch Adak as the “Gateway to the Arctic.”The idea looked to be a good one when Royal-Dutch Shell appeared on the verge of a major oil development in the Chukchi Sea almost due north of the island. But after spending $7 billion on oil exploration, Shell last fall abandoned the Chukchi and has no plans to return anytime soon.
Dreams of global warming melting the Arctic ice to free the way for a huge increase in shipping via the Nothern Sea and Transpolar shipping routes remain just that — dreams.
A prison could be a reality. Prisons bring more than prisoners, too; prisons bring jobs. The Alaska Department of Labor has noted the Spring Creek Correctional Center near Seward in Southcentral Alaska is the largest employer in that community of nearly 6,000.
An Adak prison could be a gold mine for the Aleut Corp. The U.S. government now spends about $450 million per year to run Gitmo. An infusion of even half that much into Adak could keep the lights on for years.
As for all this fear about housing terrorists, this is Alaska. Alaska is full of Alaskans, and Alaskans ain’t afraid of no terrorists. If they got rowdy at Adak, you can just take them out of jail, fly them to the far side of the island, kick them out of the airplane, and say “good luck finding your way back.” They’d mellow out real quick.
What Alaska’s governor needs to do here is use his connection to the President or his connection to Alaska Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff-Rubenstein, whose newspaper describes her as a personal acquaintance of the President for several years, to get the federal government and the Aleut Corp. talking.
Who knows, maybe PT Capital, whose employees are now working for both the governor and Rogoff, could help broker a deal. The company says it has money it is interested in investing in Alaska. Maybe it could spend some of that money in building prison cells to lease back to the government to house jihadi prisoners, who upon being told they are going to Adak would probably think they’d lost their bet on martyrdom and are headed straight to hell.
When there was still a community of 6,000 on the island in the 1970s, the Associated Press described Adak as a “womenless wasteland with the worst weather in the world.” Think of the description the AP might used if all the island held was a prison and the guards necessary to run it.