By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
CHICAGO -- Dozens of terrorism suspects being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be moved to a little-used Illinois state prison that will be acquired and upgraded by the federal government, an Obama administration official said.
The critical step toward fulfilling President Obama's pledge to shut the Guantanamo detention center will be announced Tuesday, said the official, who reported that Obama has ordered the acquisition of the eight-year-old Thomson Correctional Center, about 150 miles northwest of Chicago.
Obama made the move despite the objections of Illinois Republicans, who fear the transfer of prisoners -- some for indefinite detention, some for trial -- could make the state a target for terrorists. Rep. Mark Kirk has called the move "an unnecessary risk."
In telegraphing the announcement, the official said closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay "is essential to protecting our national security and helping our troops by removing a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of al- Qaeda."
Preliminary administration calculations suggest that the 1,600-bed state prison, currently housing about 200 minimum security inmates, could be upgraded for Guantanamo detainees and other federal prisoners in roughly six months. One official described the intended security level as "beyond supermax."
Before prisoners can be moved, Congress must vote to allow detainees to be housed on U.S. soil for reasons other than trial.
The administration envisions the prison grounds in rural Thomson, close to the Mississippi River, as a place for prolonged detention and a site of future military commission trials.
The offer to sell the prison to the federal government came from the village president in October. It quickly won the support of the Illinois Democratic leadership, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, who are scheduled to be briefed at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.
Durbin estimated that the move from Guantanamo could create as many as 3,000 jobs.