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Obama administration to buy Illinois prison for Guantanamo detainees

Prisoners will not be permitted visits by family or friends, officials said. They will be guarded by military personnel. They will not mix with federal inmates who will share the prison. They will not be released in the United States.

The Pentagon said 1,000 to 1,500 personnel would move to the Thomson area to operate the military side of the prison once it is upgraded. About two-thirds would be members of the uniformed military, and the others would be civilians.

Improvements to the 1,600-bed prison, built eight years ago for $145 million and now housing fewer than 200 minimum-security inmates, are likely to take six months or more. Congress will be asked to approve the funding.

In addition to extra security, the prison is expected to need a courthouse for trials, an improved medical facility and a kitchen staff trained to prepare religiously appropriate meals.

'It's a wonderful thing'

Democrats pushed the prison's selection after Gov. Pat Quinn (D) relayed the suggestion to Obama in a White House meeting. They argued that a federal purchase of the 146-acre facility would produce as many as 3,000 jobs in a region with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate.

"It's a wonderful thing," said Thomson real estate agent Jeannine Mills. "At first, I was very apprehensive, but now I feel it will be very secure and, all in all, a good thing. We certainly need the economic boost."

Republicans have focused on security. Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) and several colleagues warned Obama in a letter last month that "our state and the Chicago metropolitan area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization."

"The administration," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), "has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping these terrorists off of our shores in the secure facility in Cuba."

Democrats on Capitol Hill voiced confidence that, once it is clear that sturdy security measures will be in place, Congress will reverse the bipartisan vote that barred prisoners from being held without trial on U.S. soil.

In a letter to Quinn announcing the decision, leaders of Obama's national security team said closing Guantanamo Bay "should not be a political or partisan issue." They said the project is backed by "the nation's highest military and civilian leaders who prosecuted the war against al Qaeda under the previous administration and continue to do so today."

Staff writers Kari Lydersen in Chicago and Perry Bacon Jr. and Peter Finn in Washington contributed to this report.


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