Obama Administration to Seek Legal Authority to House Candidates for Indefinite Detention at Thomson Prison

Dec 15, 2009 1:56pm

Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

In a letter to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, five Obama administration officials – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. , Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano – formally announce that, per Quinn’s suggestion, “the President has directed, with our unanimous support, that the Federal Government proceed with the acquisition of the facility in Thomson.”

The officials write that the “President has no intention of releasing any detainees in the United States. Current law effectively bars the release of the Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil…”

You may recall that on May 20, 2009, the Senate, by a vote of 90-6, voted to block funds needed for the transfer or release of detainees held at Guantanamo in an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009, an amendment that became law.

So does that mean that since the detainees won’t be “released” in the US, the White House is arguing their transfer to a prison on US soil would be perfectly legal?

“It is permissible under US law to bring in detainees for prosecution,” says a senior administration official.

Current law, said a second senior administration official, “would allow for the transfer to the continental United States of detainees to face trial

There are four categories of detainee currently at Guantanamo.

• First, “those who will face trial in Article 3 in federal courts,” the second official said. They “will be transferred directly to that jurisdiction.”

• Second, those who will be “transferred to our friends or allies overseas” will go overseas directly from Gitmo.

• Third, those who would face trial in military commissions will be housed at Thomson. The military commission trials will take place at Thomson.

• The last category consists of — as President Obama put it in his speech at the National Archives – “people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.” 

So where would they go? The second senior administration official said that “there are no specific cases today that meet that standard that the President has signed off on.” They want Thomson to be a place for these individuals, but currently “it would be a violation of the law to transfer prisoners to Thomson for the purpose of anything other than prosecution” so the administration acknowledges they “will need some change of law… Ultimately the facility would allow for the detention of some number of detainees who the President outlined in the Archives speech as not being tryable either in federal courts or in military commissions.” And Thomson “would be a facility for such detention.”

The letter from the administration officials to Gov. Quinn notes that in a letter on December 2, “Illinois law enforcement authorities endorsed this plan in a letter to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General” while more than “30 villages, towns, cities, counties, chambers of commerce, and other community and business organizations have sent letters, approved resolutions, or otherwise expressed their support for this plan.”

The move, they say, will address both “the urgent overcrowding problem at our nation's Federal prisons” and “will also help achieve our goal of closing the detention center at Guantanamo in a timely, secure, and lawful manner. “

The maximum security prison will house both Gitmo detainees, in a facility to be run by the Pentagon, as well as Federal inmates, in a separate facility to be run by the Justice Department.

“The two parts of the facility will be managed separately, and Federal inmates will have no opportunity to interact with Guantanamo detainees,” the officials write.

They underline that the “security of the facility and the surrounding region is our paramount concern. Thomson will be “enhanced to exceed perimeter security standards at the nation's only ‘supermax’ prison in Florence, Colorado, where there has never been an escape or external attack.” 

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus