President Barack Obama today will order the federal government to purchase a rural Illinois prison to house a limited number of suspected terrorists currently detained at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois, is located in a sparsely populated part of Illinois about 150 miles away from Chicago and near the Iowa border. The nearly vacant 8-year-old maximum security prison will house Gitmo detainees as well as accept other inmates transferred from other federal prisons, reports the Quad City Times. One administration official told the The Washington Post that security will be "beyond supermax."
The order is one more clear step toward fulfilling President Obama's pledge to close the controversial military prison, reports The Post, which critics, including the president, claim creates more terrorists and tarnishes America's image abroad.
"Closing the detention center at Guantanamo is essential to protecting our national security and helping our troops by removing a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of Al Qaeda," an administration official told New York's Daily News.
The New York Times provides a quick summary of the Obama administration's plans for the prison.
Under the proposal for Thomson, the Bureau of Prisons would buy the facility and improve its security. Most of the prison would house ordinary high-security inmates, but a part would be leased to the Defense Department to hold terror suspects.
It was not immediately clear how the government would pay for the prison and upgrades, but White House officials have floated the idea of including financing for it in the 2010 military appropriations bill.
The prison could continue to hold enemy combatants indefinitely without recourse to the U.S. legal system, the Times reports.
Illinois Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, and local politicians lobbied hard to receive Gitmo detainees as a way to revitalize an area hit hard by the economic downturn, despite Illinois Republican detractors that said it would make rural Illinois a terrorism target. According to the Quad City Times:
Democrats in the state, particularly Durbin and Quinn, as well as many people in the local community, have backed the idea as a potential boon to the area’s struggling economy.
The move could create up to 3,800 jobs over four years and inject $1 billion into the regional economy, the administration estimates.
Many townspeople whose friends and relatives hoped to land jobs as guards, or who had invested in businesses, also have had high hopes the prison would open, even though some of the same people have expressed reservations about having the detainees in their midst.
The Quad City Times also asked local former Army Reservists, who once guarded Gitmo detainees, what they thought of the plan to transfer the same detainees into the region. They were divided on the plan. Misty Mills, a military police officer at Gitmo, said she preferred that detainees “didn’t follow us almost home.”
♦ Photo of Camp Delta recreation yard at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by DefenseLink