A prison complex 150 miles from Chicago has emerged as the leading contender to house detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, senior administration officials tell ABC News.
Officials from the Pentagon and the Federal Bureau of Prisons will soon visit lllinois' Thomson Correctional Center to inspect the maximum security prison, which was opened in 2001 but has never been fully utilized because of state budget issues.
Information from the state of Illinois indicates that Thomson Correctional Center is a Level 1 adult male maximum-security facility comprised of 1,600 cells and eight housing units, none of which are currently used.
The facility is on 146 acres and is currently surrounded by a 12-foot exterior fence and 15-foot interior fence — which includes a dual sided electric stun fence. The cell houses were constructed with pre-cast, reinforced cement walls.
The complex also contains a 200-bed minimum-security unit, which has been operational.
It has not yet been determined whether all of the detainees currently being held at Guantanamo, or just some of them, would be transferred to the Thomson Correctional Center, assuming it is ultimately picked. Those who fall into the administration's category of "indefinite detention" — too dangerous to be released but bad candidates for prosecution, because of tainted evidence — are the most problematic.
In the 2008 presidential race both then-Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pledged to close the Detainee Center at Guantanamo Bay at least in part because it has been such an effective recruiting tool for terrorist groups abroad.
But Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is running for the Senate, is circulating a letter among other state officials that asks President Obama to not pick the facility.
"If your Administration brings Al Qaeda terrorists to Illinois, our state and the Chicago Metropolitan Area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization," Kirk writes. "Furthermore, since Thomson is located in the Northern District of Illinois, any civilian prosecution of Al Qaeda terrorists would occur in Rockford or downtown Chicago. As home to Americas tallest building, we should not invite Al Qaeda to make Illinois its number one target."