President Obama on Monday will propose a $3.8-trillion fiscal 2011 federal budget that includes $237 million for the purchase and upgrading of a prison in Illinois to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.
Obama sends his spending blueprint to Congress, with the money to buy the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois, 150 miles west of Chicago, in the Department of Justice funding request. The State of Illinois and the federal government are currently negotiating over the purchase price of Thomson.
During a briefing with reporters on Sunday afternoon previewing the budget--the contents were embargoed until 6 a.m. eastern time on Monday-- White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said the acquisition of Thomson by the federal government would be "warranted" even in the absence of Guantanamo detainees because more space was needed to house federal maximum security prisoners.
On the call, the briefers used two numbers to discuss the Thomson purchase and security upgrading needed--$250 million and $270 milllion. Asked to clarify, the Chicago Sun-Times was told the Justice Department fiscal 2011 request will include "$237 million to purchase, modify, and operate Thomson for a full year.
"This should not be viewed as the purchase price alone - it includes the cost of modifying and operating the facility for a year. The negotiation process with the State of Illinois regarding the purchase price is ongoing, and this number builds in flexibility depending on the final appraisals and final negotiated price with the state."
The Obama White House is proposing acquiring Thomson for a dual use: To house an estimated 100 Guantanamo detainees who are being held indefinitely in a facility run by the Department of Defense and to use the rest of the complex to house federal prisoners in a facility to be run by the Bureau of Prisons.
The Defense Department would "own" Thomson and lease space to the Defense Department. 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.
President Obama missed his Jan. 22, 2010 self-imposed deadline to close Guantanamo, a promise he made the day he was sworn into office. The Obama White House argues that the prison is a recruiting tool for Al Queda and an international black eye for the U.S.
Since December, moving the detainees to Illinois has been championed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illl.) and Gov. Quinn as a jobs boom for a part of the state with a high jobless rate. Most Thomson-are local officials have not objected to taking the Guantanamo detainees.
However, Republicans in Congress and GOP members in the Illinois delegation have said that moving the detainees to Illinois only creates a terrorist target. They may try to squash the plan to close Guantanamo by resisting budgeting money to replace it. As of Monday, there were 192 detainees in Guantanamo.
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is running for the Senate and most likely will win the GOP nomination in Tuesday's Illinois primary election said last month on Fox News, "Under this proposal, we are not closing Gitmo, we're just moving it to America's heartland. And I think that poses unnecessary risk." Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said "the administration is not closing Guantanamo, they are simply moving Guantanamo to Illinois."
On Monday morning, Roskam's spokesman Dan Conston sent out a memo continuing the opposition to moving the detainees to Illinois. "The Obama Administration admitted they are finally considering moving the Khalid Sheikh Mohammad trial from New York. When will they listen to reason in Illinois and drop their controversial plan to create Guantanamo Illinois?"
UPDATED 5:50 p.m. eastern time
Ros-Lehtinen Says $237 Million to House Guantanamo Inmates in Illinois Puts Americans at Risk, Wastes Taxpayer Money
(WASHINGTON) - U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said today that the President's request for approximately $237 million to house Guantanamo Bay detainees in Thomson, Illinois, wastes taxpayer money, jeopardizes security interests, and ignores the will of the American people. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"Considering our economic situation, I can think of about 237 million better ways to spend $237 million dollars.
"Americans are outraged at the administration's plan to house Guantanamo detainees in the heartland of America. The President has decided to charge full-steam-ahead anyway. He is not listening to the American people.
"Even though Americans are facing tremendous economic challenges, the administration has chosen to spend $237 million dollars in taxpayer money to provide free travel, room and board in Thomson, Illinois for some of the most dangerous Guantanamo detainees.
"It is time for the President to focus on the security and economic needs of the American people, rather than on the needs of those dangerous extremists who seek to do us harm."