White House: Guantanamo Detainees Will Be Sent to Illinois Prison

Administration announces plans to transfer detainees to maximum security prison.

ByABC News
December 15, 2009, 12:50 PM

Dec. 15, 2009 -- The U.S. government will buy the Thomson Correctional Center from the state of Illinois and use it to hold a limited number of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with other federal inmates, the Obama administration announced today.

The Thomson prison complex, 150 miles from Chicago is a maximum security prison that opened in 2001 but has never been fully utilized because of state budget issues. The Department of Justice will acquire TCC primarily as a facility to house Federal inmates, but will operate part of the facility "to house a limited number of detainees" from Guantanamo.

Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris, both Democrats, as well as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, have said they support the administration's decision. After meeting with top administration officials at the White House today, Quinn told reporters Illinois is "united" and Durbin praised the president for his decision.

"This will be the safest prison in America. President Obama made the right choice for our country," Durbin said today. "His home state of Illinois stands behind the president. We see this as a great opportunity to not only serve our country but to provide meaningful jobs for a lot of people desperate for work."

In a letter to the Illinois governor, five top 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 -- said the move will address "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. "

But, the reaction from Republican lawmakers in Illinois and Washington was swift and harsh.

Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill., whose district contains the Thomson facility, said he is concerned "that the hatred the terrorists have toward Guantanamo would transfer to Thomson, Illinois, thus creating a magnet for terrorist activity."

"Because the decision to move Gitmo to Thomson has already been made, I'll press every level of the federal government to enhance the security of the people of this area in order to protect their families, critical workplaces, infrastructure, and schools," Manzullo said in a statement.

Rep. Peter Roskam R-Ill., called the decision "an ill-advised move that ultimately will be regretted."

"The proponents have failed to prove how this move will make America safer," Roskam said. "Let's be clear: the Administration is not closing Guantanamo, they are simply moving Guantanamo to Illinois. Illinois deserves a better Christmas present than hardened terrorists."

"The American people don't want dangerous terrorists imported on to U.S. soil, and we have had bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate reaffirming this position," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement.

Attempting to assuage concerns about safety, Quinn insisted today that the prison will be secure.

"This will be the most secure prison in America. No one has ever escaped from a federal prison. The security enhancements that are going to be put at the Thompson prison, which has been a nearly vacant prison in Illinois for about eight years, will make it the most secure maximum security prison in our country of all time," said Quinn.

The governor also noted that detainees incarcerated at this prison will only be allowed to speak to their lawyers and are not permitted to have visitors.