WASHINGTON--The White House will announce Tuesday that President Obama will seek to acquire the Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois to house detainees now held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
I reported in Saturday's editions of the Sun-Times that the Obama administration had settled on the nearly vacant Thomson and would be making the announcement soon.
Obama has directed the federal government to proceed with the acquisition of Thomson to house federal inmates under Bureau of Prisons authority and a "limited number" of detainees from the Guantanamo Bay Military prison--estimated to be under 100-- to be housed in a portion of Thomson to be operated by the Department of Defense.
The Bureau of Prisons would occupy 75 percent of the facility and the Defense Department would use 25 percent of the space for the detainees. The plan calls for two "entirely separate facilities side by side."
"Closing the detention center at Guantanamo is essential to protecting our national security and helping our troops by removing a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of al Qaeda. Tomorrow's announcement is an important step forward as we work to achieve our national security objectives," an official said in a statement.
Obama ordered Guantanamo prison closed a year after his inauguration--but will not make the Jan. 21 self imposed deadline because of the unforeseen difficulty in transferring the detainees--numbering about 200--to other countries or to prisons in the U.S.
Gov. Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) champions of the project--arguing that it will create a jobs boom in a part of the state with high unemployment--will be briefed by administration officials at the White House Tuesday afternoon on how the acquisition will proceed. GOP members of the congressional delegation have been critical of the plan.
Thomson, built in 2001, has 1,600 maximum-security cells and a 200-bed minimum-security unit. The Bureau of Prisons, according to an Obama team memo, "plans call for its portion of the facility to be a higher-security prison with 2,000 inmates."
The detainees to be housed at Thomson are those suspected terrorists who will neither be freed nor tried.
One of the next steps--after the official announcement--is for the 12-member State of Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which plays an advisory role in the acquisition process.
Once Quinn says in writing he wants to sell a state property, the state Central Management Services department has to declare it surplus; it has to be offered first to local units of government to see if they want to buy Thomson then there is an appraisal and then the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability looks at the sale to determine if it is a good idea; in this case the outcome seems certain to be that it is.
The law calls for the 12-member body to have a formal hearing process, which includes a "detailed public examination of the impact of closing a state facility, including the economic impact." The Illinois Department of Corrections would also conduct there own economic impact analysis.
The commission findings are advisory and in the end, the Illinois General Assembly cannot veto what Quinn wants to do.
The decision comes days after the White House downplayed a memo dated Dec. 10 prepared by federal authorities to prepare for the sale of the state prison to the federal government; the memo was disclosed Friday by Andrew Breitbart's "Big Government" web site. A government official said the memo was a "predecisional" document--coining a new word--but the Tuesday announcement shows clearly the government was poised to make the announcement.