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White House settles on Illinois prison for Guantanamo detainees

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WASHINGTON -- Barring a last-minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday.

An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.

A memo to the Justice and Defense departments prepared by administration officials and dated Thursday prompted speculation that the site selection was finalized. An administration official said the memo was a draft and downplayed the significance of its existence, calling it a "predecisional document." The memo was leaked Friday on Andrew Breitbart's "Big Government" Web site.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Quinn, champions of the project -- which would create jobs in a depressed area of the state -- said the draft memo was a positive sign.

The memo called on the federal government to "expeditiously'' acquire Thomson; the plan calls for most of the facility to be run by the federal Bureau of Prisons and for about 100 detainees now at Guantanamo to be transferred to the portion of the complex to be under the control of the Defense Department.

In a joint statement, Durbin and Quinn said, "Late this afternoon, we learned of a draft internal Obama Administration memo signaling that the Administration has narrowed its focus to the Thomson Correctional Center to serve as a federal prison."

While the decision is not final, Durbin and Quinn said, "we are encouraged by this development. We will continue working with the White House, the Defense Department and the Justice Department to address important questions regarding security and job creation, and finalize this agreement."

Last week, the Illinois congressional delegation was briefed on the Thomson project. Members interviewed after the meeting said officials did not mention any other facility in serious contention with Thomson.

An Obama administration official -- who did not want to be identified -- confirmed the authenticity of the memo. The official issued a statement saying, "This is a draft, predecisional document that lawyers at various agencies were drafting in preparation for a potential future announcement about where to house GTMO detainees. Drafts of official documents are often prepared for any and all possibilities, regardless of whether a decision has been made about the policy or if the document will be used.''
(end updated version)


Washington -- Barring a last minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times.

An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.


A leaked memo prepared by administration officials prompted speculation that the decision was finalized. An administration official said that memo was a draft and not to read anything into its existence because paperwork is readied just in case.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D--Ill.) and Gov. Quinn, champions of the project--which would create jobs in a depressed area of the state took the draft memo as a positive sign.

The memo called on the federal government to "expeditiously" acquire Thomson for uses as a federal prison and for a Department of Defense run facility for Detainees now at Guantanamo.

In a joint statement Durbin and Quinn said, "Late this afternoon, we learned of a draft internal Obama Administration memo signaling that the Administration has narrowed its focus to the Thomson Correctional Center to serve as a federal prison. We are told that the Administration has not made its final decision, but that such draft memoranda authorizing federal officials to begin the next steps in an acquisition process such as this are routine. "Even though the final decision has not been made, we are encouraged by this development. We will continue working with the White House, the Defense Department and the Justice Department to address important questions regarding security and job creation, and finalize this agreement.

An Obama administration official said in a statement, "This is a draft, predecisional document that lawyers at various agencies were drafting in preparation for a potential future announcement about where to house GTMO detainees. Drafts of official documents are often prepared for any and all possibilities, regardless of whether a decision has been made about the policy or if the document will be used."

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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 Dustin Michael Harris published on December 11, 2009 6:10 PM.

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