WASHINGTON -- Members of the Illinois congressional delegation -- after an unusually long meeting Wednesday -- were divided over the possibility of the Obama White House transferring inmates at the Guantanamo Bay military prison to a nearly vacant prison in northwestern Illinois.
At times, I was told, the discussion became heated. "It was spirited because there is a difference of opinion within the delegation. There are those of us who [favor] the selection of Thomson and those who oppose it," said Sen. Dick Durbin, who has been a champion of the project, which would provide thousands of jobs in a depressed area of the state.
Rep. Mark Kirk, the front-running GOP Senate candidate, said there were "many unanswered questions" and that he wanted a classified briefing in order to get "a number of key questions" about the detention of alleged terrorists in Illinois answered. Kirk said he opposed the sale of the Illinois prison to the federal government when the possibility was announced two weeks ago.
The lawmakers, meeting in Durbin's Capitol office, left with the impression that the Thomson Correctional Center was the White House's leading contender for receiving Guantanamo detainees. The number of prisoners discussed -- previously thought to be about 100 -- seemed now to be less than 100, according to Rep. Deborah Halvorson (D-Ill.), who has not taken a stand.
Lawmakers were told no detainee now in Guantanamo would ever be released in the United States; inmates in Thomson would go to military hospitals if sick and not local facilities, and none of them would get visits from family or friends.
Republican Rep. Peter Roskam said, "I found a shocking lack of detail given just how far they are in the process to move Guantanamo to Illinois."
Illinois lawmakers gathered for a presentation from Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice; Alan Liotta, principal director of the Office of Detainee Policy, Department of Defense, and Jonathon Monken, director of the Illinois State Police. "Everybody had a lot of questions," Halvorson said.