Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Guantanamo prisoners may be headed to Illinois prison. Quinn, Durbin, Obama White House working on plan


By Lynn Sweet
Sun-Times Washingon Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON--A nearly empty state prison in northwestern Illinois has emerged as a possible site to house detainees transferred from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, the Obama White House told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday.

Gov. Quinn and Obama discussed the federal purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center when Quinn was in Washington on Nov. 4 and visited the White House. The Chicago Sun-Times has learned that Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will outline proposals for the future of the prison at press conferences in Rock Island, Chicago and Rockford on Sunday.

Durbin's office has been quarterbacking the potential sale of the prison through a series of meetings between the White House and Quinn, who is looking to generate revenues for the cash-strapped state.

The Thomson complex is the Illinois Department of Corrections newest maximum security prison. Built in 2001for $145 million, the 1,600-bed facility has zero inmates. The facility's minimum security operation has about 200 prisoners.

A White House source told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that no decisions have been made and Thomson is one of "multiple options" being considered to house Guantanamo detainees. If the prison is acquired by the federal government, it would be run under the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which would then establish a supermax facility, leasing a portion to the Defense Department for a "limited number" of Guantamo detainees.

Obama, who may miss his Jan. 22 deadline of closing the controversial prison, established a Guantanamo Review Task Force, run by the Justice and Defense Departments by executive order on his first day in office. The task force has been evaluating maximum security facilities nationwide, with Thomson one possibility.

Quinn's office on Saturday only that "senior officials" from the Obama administration will be visiting Thomson to determine if "virtually vacant, state-of-the-art facility can be utilized by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"Over-crowding in federal prisons is a serious issue and one of the reasons why the Bureau of Prisons is interested in viewing Thomson Correctional Center. As always, Gov. Quinn's first priority is public safety and security, an issue that will definitely be part of any future discussion with federal prison authorities regarding Thomson. In addition, the Quinn administration is interested in utilizing Thomson to create" new jobs and "generate greater economic development for Illinois."

Quinn's statement side-stepped the matter of if Guantanamo detainees would be housed there, making no mention in the statement. The state could realize at least $200 million from a deal.

Durbin and Quinn are expected on Sunday to discuss details about the ongoing evaluations by the Justice and Defense teams. They will be joined at press conferences at the Quad City International Airport, Midway Airport and Rockford International Airport by Michael Randle, Department of Corrections director and Jonathon Monken, Illinois State police director.

Unlike other locations where the housing of terrorist suspects touched off a political storm, Obama's home state of Illinois may provide a friendlier reception. Durbin is on board and Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) is open bringing detainees to Illinois.

The mayor of the small (population 550) agricultural community has raised no objection to the potential use of Thomson to house Guantanamo detainees--which has been an open possibility for months. A maximum security federal prison in Downstate Marion houses Ali al-Marri, a convicted al-Qaida conspirator without controversy.

The Quad City Times, which covers northwestern Illinois, reported on Friday that the federal government may buy Thomson. Quinn, during a campaign stop on Thursday night in the Quad Cities said he would have an announcement about the sale of the eight-year-old facility "within the next few days," the paper reported.

The paper said Thomson Mayor Jerry Hebeler has not objected to suspected terrorists being imprisoned in his town--far away from any target rich population center.

On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that five men accused of the 9-11 attacks now being held in Guantanamo would be sent to New York to stand trial, just several blocks away from the World Trade Center twin towers, destroyed in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Security is expected to be at an all-time high.

The closing of Guantanamo has touched off a political storm for Obama, who made shutting the prison in Cuba a signature pledge of his presidential campaign. Obama promised on his first day in office to close the prison in one year, but it has proved more difficult than Obama or his advisors ever contemplated, especially since other nations have balked at accepting detainees.

Holder on Friday, discussing the Guantanamo closure said "I'm not sure we are going to be able to complete that process by Jan. 22."


This is a good idea.

It would bring jobs to the State of illinois and would allow the State to recoup it's investment in an under utilized facility.

Let us hope that our politicians then use the funds received from the Federal government to pay down some of the debt that the State of Illinois is wallowing in!

A brilliant solution :) Now watch the Republican heads explode as they shout "The Terrorist are coming! the Terrorists are coming!" lol

Not in my back yard!

Quinn, Durbin and Burris are delusional if they think Illinois citizens want to have these war criminals in this state. Let 'em rot in Guantanamo!

"As always, Gov. Quinn's first priority is public safety and security"

What a crock. If that were really true, he wouldn't have laid off so many correctional officers from IDOC or made Illinois State Police officers take furlough days and cancel future cadet classes. He also didn't lay off one employee from the Department of Central Management Services, which is made up of political hacks or friends and family of politicians or connected people. This guy doesn't care about public safety one bit. It was rumored for years that he hates the police. Guess that was one rumor that turned out true.

I am horror struck that my Sen. D. Durban is doing this to my State. His spin that this is in some way a economic boom with no care for the 911 families or to keep these killers out of our country. This is BLOOD MONEY Mr. Durban and you have the blood of America on your hands by accepting these filth into my state. 911 blood and god forbid if anything happens because you have brought this unnecessary danger into our Country.

For My State...I would like to say I'm Sorry to America that this is happening! We are not for this and this is a Lone Man, hell bent on making a few dollars with no care for the people. Be sure we will work hard to remove Durban from office!

People of America, please write Durban! We have to stop his appeasement of our President!

Thanx for your well written post. But I had difficulty navigating around your site because I kept getting 502 bad gateway error. Just thought to let you know.

I heard on Sunday Morning... All Federal prisoners are entitled to 10 visitors/month. How can the US possibly safeguard Chicago O'Hare, Sears Tower, etc. against the potential for trouble with visitors(est. 2000/mo.)flying in from all over to visit the detainee/prisoners?

My sentiments exactly Dan Guss & D.J. I live a couple of hrs. from the windy city & only 50 minutes from the prison which Obama & his so called advisors wish to house these 911 terrorists. How insensitive & callous on their part to bring these brutal killers to Illinois or anywhere on America's beloved soil. It's all about greed * notoriety & compassion for the 911 families etc. Sadly Obama will be opening the door wide to another 911 or worst if we can even contemplate this. And the very danger he will place upon the city of New York * the sitting Judge for the Trial & the 12 Jurors...the man is absent of a conscience~

Obama has no regard for the safety of America remember he is God, the rockstar of the universe. These prisoners should be at GITMO left to rot. Any one who has fought in a war knows never turn your back on the enemy. They need to be watched with no exposure to the outside world. Prison guards will be dealing with the worst of the worst. Wake up America you have elected someone as president who doesn't have a clue or cares about the real world but only his own special agenda.

These terrorists are prisoners of war. I have no problem with them being incarcerated in one of our prisons, with the exception that it opened the way to have them tried in Federal Court. THAT is the big mistake; the Justice Department wants to fight our enemies again.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 14, 2009 9:50 AM.

President Obama official day Nov. 14, 2009. In Singapore. Briefing transcript was the previous entry in this blog.

President Obama official day Nov. 15, 2009. To China is the next entry in this blog.

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