USP Florence ADMAX
USP Florence ADMAX | Federal Bureau of Prisons

Alcatraz of the Rockies capable of housing Gitmo inmates, says former warden

The nation’s only super maximum security prison has the capacity and the capability to safely hold the Guantanamo inmates, its former warden said Thursday.

Florence ADX, in Colorado, dubbed the Alcatraz of the Rockies, is one possible destination for between 30 and 60 inmates that President Barack Obama and the Pentagon want to move from Cuba to the United States.

Although the proposal to close the Guantanamo Bay military camp and transfer the inmates faces fierce political opposition, former warden Robert Hood said they can be moved to Florence, without any impact on the surrounding community and at low cost to the taxpayer.

Hood, warden for three years through 2005, revealed there are currently 87 spare beds inside the supermax facility, which today houses 403 inmates, including Islamic and domestic terrorists, white supremacists, black liberation militants and gang leaders. That number changes only marginally over time, Hood explained.

“From a former warden’s point of view, it would be secure, they could be handled and there will be no impact on the community,” Hood told AMI News Wire.

A military team inspected the 37-acre complex near Canon City late last year, ahead of the Pentagon delivering its report to the president.

Colorado representatives, both Republican and Democrat, oppose transferring the inmates to the state.

“I remain adamantly opposed to closing GITMO. The answer to the president’s plan is no, absolutely not,” said Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in a statement. “These hardened terrorists are irregular enemy combatants who should be housed at Guantanamo, and not in Colorado nor in any other state.”

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said Guantanamo should be closed, but he said those being held there are military prisoners and should be sent to a military prison in the U.S.

Hood said a separate area could be set aside for the inmates, to be supervised and administered by the military, possibly based out of Fort Carson, a 30-minute drive from the prison.

“If they are going to be placed in federal custody, then there is only one prison and that would be the Alcatraz of the Rockies,” said Hood.

He said he understands the political difficulties involved and added there is pushback from people in the area, many of whom support their local representatives. There are fears the area could become a target for terrorists.

“There is the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, Ramsi Yousef, who masterminded the first World Trade Center attack, all held there,” said Hood.

In addition, those who helped carry out the 1998 east Africa bombing attacks are held in the prison.

“They are all there. To say the prison cannot take whoever because of the impact on the local community is wrong,” said Hood. “If that was going to happen, it would have happened already. It’s almost a slap in the face to the staff. This is the most secure prison in the country, but you are saying we cannot handle them.”

“When the (terrorist) inmates come to the supermax, they are forgotten by those that they were working for and with. They are cut off,” said the former warden, now a security consultant. “I do not think anyone cares about, say, Richard Reid, except his mother back in England. No-one wants to break them out. When they go there, their mission is done.”

Hood said he would be more concerned if the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was brought to Florence than the alleged terrorists held in Guantanamo.

“He’s not going to be making any tunnels, but he could have an impact going after the staff or the community,” said Hood.

The former warden agreed that if the Guantanamo inmates are transferred to Florence, they might quickly want to return to the island.

“It’s clean, it’s sharp, but this is not a typical prison where you might see 1,000 inmates walking around,” he said.

Prisoners have minimal or no contact with each other. They are moved from point to point chained and shackled, down eerily quiet corridors.

Six gun towers surround the supermax, which is close to the much larger Florence federal penitentiary.

Eyes are on anyone who comes within two miles of the complex. Apart from the armed guards, there are laser beams, pressure pads, cameras and silent attack dogs between the prison walls and the surrounding wire.

Visitors and prisoners enter the interior of the complex, part of which is built into a mountain, down a heavily guarded road tunnel. There are 1,400 remote-control steel doors within the building. 

About 30 inmates, such as Yousef, are held under special-administration measures, where they have no contact with other prisoners and remain in their cells 23 hours a day.

Inside the 7-by-12-foot cells, inmates sleep on thin mattresses. The windows, three-inch slits, are set high in the wall and angled upwards to the sky so inmates have no idea where in the building they are being kept.