Gitmo to Alexandria?


By David Sachs

The accused terrorists now housed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba could be headed to the Alexandria jail.

There has been no contact between the Alexandria Sheriffs Department and the federal government on moving the prisoners here. But given the citys history with housing high-profile federal suspects and President Barack Obamas announced intention to close the Guantanamo prison within a year, the city jail could become the holding pen for the suspected terrorists while the government decides how to deal with them, including possibly trying them in federal courts here and elsewhere.

For the residents of southeast Alexandria who remember the six-year proceedings against 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in their neighborhood federal courthouse, the possibility of one or more new trials of such controversial defendants is worrisome. Eisenhower Avenue separates the jail where Moussaoui was housed, and the dense, newly populated Carlyle neighborhood where Moussaoui was tried, creating a frenzy of security details and media coverage.

The 2006 trial created a strain on residents, who lived in a neighborhood then resembling a military zone, with rooftop snipers and street barricades. The citys public safety departments, too, were taxed with their own added responsibilities.

It puts a strain [on the staff] because youre having to step up and pay closer attention to various measures that need to be put into effect, Alexandria Undersheriff Tony Davis said. So, yeah, there is a certain amount of strain placed on the staff because theyre required to pay closer attention to different security aspects.

City officials have expressed realistic disdain at the idea of housing more prisoners here because of the imposition the Moussaoui trial placed on the nearby residents and the use of city resources for a federal prisoner.

My personal prerogative would be that they not come here and not cause adverse affects on our community, Councilman Justin Wilson said at a City Council forum last week. But that being said, we have a courthouse here, and if our government asks us to help I would work with our sheriff to make sure that we protect our residents and make sure that the city gets the financial reimbursement that would be necessary for anything that we do.

Vice Mayor Del Pepper said, We have already done our fair share, I feel, and the last time what we had was really kind of an imposition on the neighborhood as well as on the jail, on the Sheriffs Department. If this is something that comes to Alexandria, if this is something we are asked to do, then Im sure that we would do it and make the best accommodations that we possibly can.

The recently developed Carlyle community is home to multiple luxury high-rises and hotels, as well as a 16-screen movie theater and the U.S. Patent and Trade Office housing about 7,000 workers. That could create a broad security dilemma for police officers, firefighters and other public safety officers who would be charged with protecting the public from any potential safety issues that could arise from the potential high-profile prisoners.

A lot of speculation has been out there, Davis said, but there has been nothing indicated by the feds to us in regard to federal detainees from Guantanamo Bay [coming to] Alexandria.
All our staff is trained and they handle themselves accordingly whether there was a high-risk inmate, whether a local inmate, a state inmate, or in this case a federal inmate, you take measures to enhance your security based on the situation, he said.