As the Obama administration's January deadline to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay looms, officials are developing plans for the more than 200 detainees still held there, including their possible distribution to civilian and military prisons across the country.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday the United States would bring five Gitmo detainees, including four alleged 9/11 conspirators, to New York City to stand trial in federal court. Holder also said that five suspects would be tried before revamped military commissions.
Roughly 40 to 50 more prisoners from the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba will be transferred to the United States, prosecuted in federal court or before a military tribunal, officials say. And at least 100 detainees have been approved for transfer to other countries.
The United States is actively negotiating additional transfer arrangements in pursuit of its self-imposed deadline, administration officials said.
That leaves 70 to 80 men considered too dangerous for release but whom the administration neither plans to charge in federal or military courts nor transfer to foreign countries.
The hope is that all but 10 to 30 of the unresolved cases will eventually be brought for prosecution or transferred abroad, officials said. A number of Yemeni and Afghan detainees are expected to remain indefinitely in "enemy combatant" status.
Those prisoners, officials say, will likely be distributed to several prisons and military installations throughout the country with none of the facilities having to completely shoulder the load.
Among the leading state prisons being considered to house detainees is Illinois' Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison complex 150 miles south of Chicago.
A review team from the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Marshalls Service is visiting the Thomson Center today.
The Thomson facility has been underutilized since opening in 2001 and state officials, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Richard "Dick" Durbin, both Democrats, see the chance to house Gitmo detainees there as an opportunity to create much-needed jobs, both at the prison and in the surrounding area.
Other communities, from the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., to recession-struck Standish, Mich., have also been attracted to the potential economic boost and have actively lobbied the government to bring the high-level prisoners there.
The Standish City Council recently passed a unanimous resolution expressing interest in having a federal prison at the Standish Max Correctional facility, which has faced closure because of budget cuts.
But critics in Standish and elsewhere across the country have expressed skepticism about the prospect of their communities becoming the Gitmo detainees' new hometowns.
"There are just too many things that could go wrong," said Tom Kerrins, chief of the Michigan correction officers union. "The problem I have is ... you almost are putting a bull's-eye on the whole entire area."
In Illinois, GOP Rep. Mark Kirk has warned in a public letter, "We should not invite al Qaeda to make Illinois its No. 1 target."
But advocates for the adoption of Gitmo detainees in state prisons point to the federal maximum-security prison in Marion, Ill., which already houses 35 convicted terror suspects, as proof that such inmates can be held and at little danger to surrounding communities.