Closing Gitmo: Feds Eye State and Military Prisons for Detainees

Feds consider list of state and military prisons to house dozens of detainees.

Nov. 16, 2009— -- 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.

Feds Eye State Prisons for Gitmo Detainees

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.

Federal officials have also been considering Colorado's so-called supermax prison, south of Denver, for placement of some of the detainees.

The prison is already home to Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, 9/ 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef and failed airline shoe bomber Richard Reid.

U.S. Military Prisons Among Those to Replace Gitmo

Aside from state correctional facilities, the Obama administration is considering a list of U.S. military bases that could house some of the detainees. Among the options are Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C.

Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies have conducted site visits at the brig in Charleston and consider the military complex a viable option, according to two administration officials.

Officials had also considered Fort Leavenworth in Kansas but have recently shied away from that option.

The congressional delegation from Kansas, led by Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has fiercely opposed using the military compound north of Kansas City as home for detainees.

In August, the senators placed legislative holds on Justice Department and Pentagon political appointees who were awaiting Senate confirmation to force the administration to provide information about its plans and prevent Leavenworth from being one of the chosen locations.

A month later, the Kansas senators said they had released the holds on the nominees after discussions with senior administration officials.

"We believe that the administration has a good understanding of obstacles and concerns and is giving them proper consideration," the senators said in a joint statement. "In a good faith effort to continue moving this dialogue forward, we are releasing our holds on all Department of Defense and Department of Justice nominees. We are confident that because of this good faith dialogue, detainees will not be transferred to Fort Leavenworth."

One major consideration that remains unresolved in the placement process is how state prisons and military installations will handle staffing of the facility or at courthouses where potential trials would take place, according to the Justice Department and federal law enforcement officials.

While there have been no specific funding requests made yet to the federal government, officials said, the cost of holding detainees on U.S. soil is likely to be a matter of concern for states, many already facing significant budget crises.

ABC News' Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

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