Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Recently in Guantanamo Category

WASHINGTON--The Obama administration on Monday pledged in letters to Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to not transfer detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba to a prison the federal government is trying to buy in Thomson, Ill., potentially lifting one roadblock to the sale.

The letter, signed by Attorney General Eric Holder, was written in reply to a request from Durbin, a Democrat and Kirk, a Republican, after Republicans demanded a promise that no suspected terrorists end up in Thomson. The State of Illinois is in the process of selling the nearly vacant maximum security prison to the federal government for use as a federal prison. The original plan, now shelved, called for a portion of Thomson to be converted to a military brig run by the Defense Department for Guantanamo detainees.

Holder said in his letter, "While we are confident the Thomson facility would be amply secure enough to house such individuals, Congress has since prohibited the use of funds to transfer such detainees to the United States. The Administration opposed that restriction for the reasons set forth in the letter I sent to Senators Reid and McConnell on December 9, 2010. Nonetheless, consistent with current law, we will not transfer detainees from Guantanamo to Thomson, or otherwise house Guantanamo detainees at Thomson. The Thomson facility would only house federal inmates and would be operated solely by the Bureau of Prisons."


below, Holder letter to Durbin.....

April 4, 2011

The Honorable Richard J. Durbin
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Durbin:

I am writing in response to your letters to me dated February 16 and March 18, 2011 regarding the Thomson Correctional Center in Carroll County, Illinois. I am sending a similar response to Senator Mark Kirk, who joined in your March 18 letter.

As you know, the Department wishes to acquire the Thomson facility in order to provide critically needed high security bed space for the federal Bureau of Prisons. The current population of high security federal penitentiaries is 51 % above rated capacity, and continues to grow. The purchase of an existing state facility such as Thomson would be substantially less expensive than the construction of an equivalent high security facility in the current market, and would expand federal prison capacity much sooner than the three to four years it would take to construct a new prison.

I appreciate your leadership in addressing the dangers of prison overcrowding, and in fostering community support for the federal government's acquisition of this unused state facility.

The President's FY11 budget requested $237 million for the acquisition, renovation, and operation of the Thomson facility. However, under the FY11 Continuing Resolutions, the
Department lacks sufficient money to purchase or activate Thomson using currently available funds. We look forward to working with you to obtain additional appropriated funds for this important and needed project.

You have asked whether detainees currently held in the Department of Defense facility at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be transferred to or housed at the Thomson Correctional Center.

While we are confident the Thomson facility would be amply secure enough to house such individuals, Congress has since prohibited the use of funds to transfer such detainees to the United States. The Administration opposed that restriction for the reasons set forth in the letter I sent to Senators Reid and McConnell on December 9, 2010. Nonetheless, consistent with current law, we will not transfer detainees from Guantanamo to Thomson, or otherwise house Guantanamo detainees at Thomson. The Thomson facility would only house federal inmates and would be operated solely by the Bureau of Prisons.

Thank you for your continued support of the Department's efforts to relieve overcrowding in federal prisons. I look forward to working with you to secure resources to acquire the Thomson facility.

WASHINGTON--President Obama ordered the resumption of military commissions to deal with some--not all-- alleged terrorist detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison on Monday.

Read the Obama administration new Guantanamo policy here: Fact_Sheet_--_Guantanamo_and_Detainee_Policy.pdf

Obama has been struggling how to deal with the prisoners. He did not fulfill his pledge to close Guantanamo a year after taking office. Last year, Obama gave up on transferring some of the Gitmo detainees to a high security facility the Obama administration wanted to open in Thomson, Ill.


From the White House: "The Secretary of Defense will issue an order rescinding his prior suspension on the swearing and referring of new charges in the military commissions. New charges in military commissions have been suspended since the President announced his review of detainee policy, shortly after taking office."

From Obama on "New Actions on Guantanamo Bay and Detainee Policy: "Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees. I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system - including Article III Courts - to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened. Going forward, all branches of government have a responsibility to come together to forge a strong and durable approach to defend our nation and the values that define who we are as a nation."




WASHINGTON--If there was any doubt--the Obama White House reaffirmed Thursday plans to buy a near empty state prison in Thomson, Ill, whether or not terrorists will be transferred there from Guantanamo Bay military prison.

The Obama administration's Justice Departmant "would be seeking to purchase the facility in Thomson even if detainees were not being considered for transfer there," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch wrote in a letter to Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.).
However, Welch said the facility is being acquired "to fulfill both of the goals of reducing federal prison overcrowding and transferring a limited number of detainees out of Guantanamo."

Thomson is in Manzullo's district and the lawmaker has been trying to convince the Obama White House to buy Thomson to house just high security federal prisoners--not Guantanamo detainees.

The Justice Department request for $237 million to buy, activate and operate Thomson is in the fiscal 2011 budget now pending before Congress.



White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at Monday's briefing President Obama and First Lady Michelle "will be traveling to Indonesia and Australia in the second half of March." Obama spent part of his youth in Indonesia with his mother and step-father.

"This trip is an important part of the President's continued effort to broaden and strengthen the partnerships that are necessary to advance our security and prosperity. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, the third largest democracy; is home to the largest Muslim population in the world; and an important partner in the G20," Gibbs said.

WASHINGTON--The White House announced Friday morning that the earthquake in Haiti caused a slight thaw in relations: the governments agreed to let U.S. aircraft use the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay (yes, more there than the prison there) and airspace to help in Haiti relief efforts.

From White House spokesman Tommy Vietor: "We have coordinated with the Cuban government for authorization to fly medical evacuation flights from the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay to Miami, FL through Cuban airspace, cutting 90 minutes off one-way flight time."

And this: "At approximately 10:15pm (Thursday), the President received an update from Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon on our relief efforts, the situation on the ground in Haiti, and tonight's Deputies Committee meeting.''


WASHINGTON -- The failure of the U.S. intelligence system to prevent the attack on Northwest Flight 253 is not a repeat of the breakdowns that preceded the Sept. 11 attacks.

After 2001, the 9/11 Commission found that a fatal flaw was the lack of information-sharing by the various agencies that collected intelligence. On Christmas Day 2009, despite many clues and tips, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a Nigerian, was allowed to board the plane in Amsterdam because the system was, in effect, overwhelmed with data.

WASHINGTON--Former 9-11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton said Thursday the U.S. will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks as long as the underlying problems exist that spawn Islamic extremists.

WASHINGTON--Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Wednesday was indicted on six counts for the Christmas Day foiled terror attack on Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253.


From the Justice Department: Count one of the indictment charges Abdulmutallab with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Count two of the indictment charges him with attempted murder within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count three of the indictment charges him with willful attempt to destroy or wreck an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Count four of the indictment charges Abdulmutallab with willfully placing a destructive device on an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which was likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft. This violation carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count five of the indictment charges him with use of a firearm/destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a consecutive mandatory 30 years in prison. Count six of the indictment charges the defendant with possession of a firearm/destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, which carries a consecutive mandatory 30 years in prison

WASHINGTON--The Transportation Security Administration on Sunday announced stepped up security screenings on U.S. bound international flights--especially looking at passengers who have traveled through any country on the U.S. list of nations sponsoring terrorist activity.

Below, from the TSA:

"Today, the Transportation Security Administration issued new security directives to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the U.S. effective January 4, 2010.

The new directive includes long-term, sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners.

Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights."

On background from a senior official: the list developed between DHS and the State Department, using the latest intelligence.

Countries of interest: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Yemen

Countries designated as a state sponsor of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

WASHINGTON--There are now 198 detainees left at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the White House told me. On Sunday, the Justice Department announced 12 suspected terrorists were sent to Yemen, Afghanistan and the Somaliland region.

On Tuesday--today--the State of Illinois is holding a public hearing on President Obama's order for the federal government to buy the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois to house detainees--estimated to be between 50 and 100.

The tally

198 detainees left as of Dec. 22
5 detainees to be transfered to New York City for federal trial
5 detainees to be tried in other U.S. venues.
--------
188 detainees remaining to be sent to another country or sent to a U.S. city for a federal trial, or sent at some point to Thomson for a military trial or sent to Thomson for an indefinite period without charges.

WASHINGTON--The White House sent members of the Illinois congressional delegation a memo covering a series of questions they generated in the wake of President Obama's order for the federal government to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for a prison to house detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Thomson would be converted to a federal prison run by the Bureau of Prisons with the detainees held in a part of the complex to be run by the Defense Department.

The Obama administration memo, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times--with the fully searchable copy at the click--covers questions dealing with the legal rights of the detainees to the security of neighbors in Thomson who may end up living with military personnel guarding the suspected terrorists, to the impact the children of soldiers may have on the finances of the local school district. While the White House makes clear the federal law enforcement authorities will work with local and state officials to deal with potential threats, it's not spelled out if the federal government would reimburse them for the work.


Durbin, Quinn


Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama ordered the federal government Tuesday to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois to house Guantanano detainees as the administration revealed that military trials would be conducted at the prison.

Meanwhile, critics of Obama's plan to move the suspected terrorists now at the military prison in Cuba to Thomson -- 150 miles west of Chicago -- included all seven Republican members of the Illinois congressional delegation: Peter Roskam, John Shimkus, Mark Kirk, Judy Biggert, Don Manzullo, Aaron Schock and Tim Johnson together in a rare joint press conference at the Capitol. The GOP Senate and House leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), as well as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also objected to the transfer.

WASHINGTON-- The Obama White House--announcing officially Tuesday it will seek to purchase an Illinois prison to house Guantanamo detainees--revealed for the first time the administration wants to hold military trials at the northwestern Illinois facility.

At a briefing, a White House official--the Obama administration forbid use of his name--said there was a "Yes, I think the plan would be to hold military commission trials at the Thomson facility."

White House settles on Illinois prison for Guantanamo detainees

| No Comments

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.

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets

Video

Lynn Sweet

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

Stay in touch

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Guantanamo category.

Fund raising is the previous category.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.