NEWS

Rural Illinois Prison Wants Gitmo Detainees

By Matthew Harwood

Officials from the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense yesterday toured the Thomson Correctional Center in rural Illinois to evaluate whether the nearly vacant prison could safely and securely house detainees from the prison complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If the proposal goes through, the Bureau of Prisons would buy the prison from the state of Illinois, which has been hurt by the current economic downturn. The Quad City Times of Davenport, Iowa, reports that the prison is one of the leading contenders to house Gitmo detainees. “This is a fine, fine facility of a high-security nature,” said Harley Lappin, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, after touring the prison.

The prison would hold 1,600 federal inmates, of which 100 to 150 would be Gitmo detainees, says the Quad City Times, although the paper says the numbers are not clear.

Residents and politicians from the small town of Thomson, Illinois, believe the infusion of federal funds into the area could economically revitalize the area. Thomson's village president, Jerry Hebeler, courted Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to have the local prison house some Gitmo detainees, reports Fox News.

According to Reuters, if Thomson is chosen, the prison will receive an $85 million annual budget from the federal government while the Bureau of Prisons could hire as many as 500 new guards. Durbin referred to a White House analysis stating that the federal takeover of Thomson could pump $1 billion into the local economy and create 3,000 jobs.

The proposal to house detainees anywhere inside the United States has met with stiff resistance from some quarters.  Reuters reports:

Republicans and some security experts have been harshly critical of the Obama administration's plans to bring the detainees into the United States for trial or incarceration, arguing they would compromise the nation's security and enjoy legal protections they do not deserve.

Phil Carter, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy, told the Quad City Times that 1,000 to 1,500 Defense employees would be part of the operation—most of them uniformed military.

Yet the Quad City Times also reports that civil liberties lawyers say the violent reputation of the detainees has been overblown by detractors of the plan.

Longtime critics of the Guantanamo Bay policies say most of those held aren’t alleged to be foreign fighters or even members of a terrorist group.

Instead, government records show 60 percent are only “associated” with al-Qaida, the Taliban or some other group, and that connection hasn’t been defined, said Mark Denbeaux, director of the Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research in New Jersey, which has studied the makeup of the Guantanamo Bay population.

Denbeaux added there also are “al-Qaida people” who testified at trials and were placed in a witness-protection program.

“They’re here, and they’re not even in jail,” he said.

Thirty of the 38 detainees who have gotten habeas corpus hearings were ordered released.

Beyond whether detainees' reputations have been exaggerated, many critics have opposed the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for pragmatic as well as legal reasons. Carter, according to Reuters, called the prison complex at Guantanamo "a recruiting tool for terrorists." Upon coming into office, President Barack Obama committed to closing the prison complex at Guantanamo Bay by January 2010—a promise many say he will not be able to keep.

In related news, Congressional Quarterly (subscription only) reports that Republican lawmakers are trying to force a symbolic floor vote in opposition to the transfer of five Gitmo detainees, including 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, to stand trial for conspiracy in New York City for the 9-11 attacks. “The transfer of Guantánamo detainees into the U.S. is a dangerous, expensive, and unnecessary risk that the American people are not willing to take,” said Jerry Lewis of California, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.


♦ Photo of Marines at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,  conducting training exercise for incoming detainees by U.S. Navy

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