White House officials said Tuesday Americans have nothing to fear from the Guantanamo detainees to be transferred to Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, but in at least two cases, individuals connected to terror who are already in federal prisons have managed to beat the system.
One passed messages to his followers, and another seriously and permanently injured a guard during an escape attempt.
The federal Bureau of Prisons says it already holds some 240 individuals who it says are connected in some way to acts of international terrorism.
The most dangerous of the al Qaeda connected terrorists are held at what's known as the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
The 20th hijacker Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla, have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.
The prisoners lead a life circumscribed by severe conditions. If they behave they get up to 60 channels of television, special meals for Muslims and an occasional hour alone outside.
"It's a bleak and brutal existence that's defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live," said defense attorney Joshua Dratel, who defended al-Qaeda terrorist Wadih El-Hage, now serving life in Florence. "There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging."
They are supposed to be cut off from the outside world, but the man called the blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of inspiring attacks on the U.S., used his lawyer to pass messages back to his violent followers in Egypt.
But even a warning from the FBI to officials at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison in New York, wasn't enough to stop one al Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, from making a bloody escape attempt in the year 2000.
His victim was prison guard Louis Pepe who Salim first blinded with hot sauce stored up in these empty honey bottles he somehow hid in his cell. Then Salim stabbed Pepe in the eye with a sharpened comb that went deep into Pepe's brain, causing permanent damage.
Salim, originally convicted for his role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, is now incarcerated at Florence. Rahman, the blind sheikh, is serving a life sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex, where Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff is also doing time.
On Tuesday, General Jim Jones, National Security Advisor, sounded a reassuring note about the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson facility, a nearly empty prison in a rural area two hours west of Chicago. "It will pose no danger to the community and we will take all steps necessary to maintain the security of the people of Illinois."
But Officer Pepe's sister now says she and her brother think it is a huge mistake for more al Qaeda prisoners to be brought to U.S. prisons.