Illinois prison eyed for Gitmo detainees

 

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Illinois prison eyed for Gitmo detainees

Gov. Pat Quinn says proposal is an opportunity to create jobs

Image: Thomson Correctional Center

The Thomson Correctional Center, located 150 miles west of Chicago, has emerged as a leading option for Guantanamo detainees.

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Dan Videtich / The Dispatch via AP

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updated 1 hour, 17 minutes ago

CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn said selling a prison in rural northwest Illinois to the federal government is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create jobs in the struggling area.

But plans to sell the prison that would then be used to house some detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba is creating controversy because of safety concerns.

Federal officials are expected at Thomson Correctional Center on Monday to inspect the prison.

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Quinn said Illinois is being considered along with at least two other cities in Colorado and Montana.

President Barack Obama wants alleged terrorism suspects from the military-run center to be transferred to U.S. soil so they can be prosecuted. The plan to use the Thomson facility, about 150 miles west of Chicago, was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Thomson was built by the state in 2001 with 1,600 cells, but budget problems prevented it from fully opening, and it now houses about 200 minimum-security inmates.

It is unclear how many Guantanamo detainees — many held without charges since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan — would be transferred to Illinois or when. Obama initially planned to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by Jan. 22, but the administration is no longer expected to meet that deadline.

If the Federal Bureau of Prisons buys the facility, it would be run primarily as a federal prison, but a portion would be leased to the Defense Department to house a limited number of Guantanamo detainees, the White House official said. Perimeter security at the site would be increased to surpass that at the nation’s only Supermax prison, in Florence, Colo., the official said.

‘Positive impact’
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second-highest-ranking Democrat, said in a statement Saturday he would support the plan. He said the prison would house fewer than 100 Guantanamo detainees and would have a "significant positive impact on the local economy" by generating more than 3,000 jobs.

Thomson Village President Jerry Hebeler said the move would generate desperately needed revenue for the town of about 500 residents near the Mississippi River.

"It’s been sitting there for eight to nine years and our town is like a ghost town," Hebeler said of the prison, adding that a tavern recently closed and a planned housing development fell through. "Everybody moved or got different jobs."

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Some lawmakers opposed the idea of terrorism suspects being brought to Illinois.

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Northbrook Republican running for Obama’s old Senate seat, circulated a letter among elected officials asking them to write to Obama opposing the plan, saying bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the state would make it a target for terrorist attacks.

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, whose district includes Thomson, said he adamantly opposed the proposal and that he has consistently joined with a majority of his colleagues "in fighting efforts to bring these terrorists onto our shores … where they could one day be released into our communities."

Image: Thomson Correctional Center

Todd Mizener / The Dispatch via AP

A wing inside the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill.


Guantanamo Bay "is set up to house these dangerous terrorists, and they should stay there," said Manzullo, an Egan Republican who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, said Kirk and other Republicans were "pandering to irrational fears" and that closing the Guantanamo Bay facility would strengthen national security because al-Qaida used it as a recruiting tool.

Phone and e-mail messages left with Jim O’Connor, a spokesman for Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, were not immediately returned.

Thomson is not the only U.S. town that had hoped to lure Guantanamo detainees. Officials in Marion, Ill., Hardin, Mont., and Florence, Colo., also have said they would welcome the jobs that would be generated.

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