NEWS

Funding Problems, Security Upgrades Will Delay Gitmo Detainee Transfer to Rural Illionis Prison Until 2011

By Matthew Harwood

Amid fears that moving enemy combatants from prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a correctional facility in rural Illinois poses an unnecessary security risk, the Obama administration says funding issues will delay the transfer of detainees until at least early 2011, according to The New York Times.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not have the necessary resources to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center, which will cost an estimated $150 million. The Times reports that a few weeks ago the Obama administration tried to persuade the House Appropriations Committee to add $200 million to the fiscal year 2010 military appropriations bill. Democratic leaders, however, rebuffed the politically controversial addition and passed the appropriations bill on Dec. 19 with no financing for buying the prison from the state of Illinois.

The next chance the Obama administration will have to get congressional authority to buy the prison is March or April when Congress takes up a supplemental appropriations bill for the war in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, administration officials told the Times that they may wait until the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill, which Congress wouldn't take up until late 2010. 

Even if the Obama administration gets the financing, additional hurdles still remain to ready the prison for its new inmates:

But in interviews this week, officials estimated that it could take 8 to 10 months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades before any transfers take place. Such construction cannot begin until the federal government buys the prison from the State of Illinois.

Administration officials have told The Washington Post that such upgrades will make Thomson "beyond supermax" in terms of safety and security.

Still, fears ran high last night during a public hearing at a high school in Sterling, a town east of where the prison facility resides, reports The Chicago Tribune. Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, told the hearing that the security upgrades would make Thomson "the most secure of all federal prisons in the country."

Denise Cattoni, a member of the Illinois Tea Party Organization, said she fears Thomson will become "a focus of revenge" for jihadists, according to The Associated Press.

Others at the public hearing said another kind of fear leads them to support transferring Guantanamo detainees to Thomson.

"I hear a lot of fear, but there's another kind of fear — the fear of losing your job or your home," said Bonnie Heckman Foust, according to the AP.

Obama administration estimates say 3,000 jobs will be generated in the economically depressed area surrounding the prison if all goes as planned.


♦ Photo of morning prayers at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by U.S. Navy/Defense.gov

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