Broad Coalition Urges Congress to Oppose Thomson Prison If Used for Indefinite or Military Commission Detention

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

Broad Coalition Urges Congress to Oppose Thomson Prison If Used for Indefinite or Military Commission Detention

Guantánamo Policies Should End and Not Be Moved on Shore

WASHINGTON - A broad coalition
of human rights, religious and civil liberties groups sent a memorandum
to the House and Senate today urging members to oppose legislation
authorizing, or appropriating federal funds for, the purchase of the
Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois unless Congress
specifically bans indefinite detention at the facility. 

The Obama
administration announced in December that it was planning to purchase
the facility for the purpose of holding some of the detainees that
currently remain at Guantánamo.
The administration indicated that some detainees might be held for
military commission proceedings in Illinois while others might be held
at Thomson indefinitely without charge or trial. According to the
administration, detainees charged, tried or sentenced in federal
criminal court would not go to Thomson and any detainees cleared for
release would remain at Guantánamo until transferred to other countries.
The administration has stated that it has the ability to hold some
detainees indefinitely without charge or trial under the Authorization
for Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001.

In its
letter to Congress, the coalition stated, "Congress should not
authorize, or appropriate money for the acquisition of the Thomson
prison unless it also enacts a permanent statutory provision that would
ensure that the Thomson prison will not become a U.S.-based prison
dedicated to perpetuating Guantánamo policies that should end."

Below is the full text of the
memorandum and a full list of signatories: 

TO:                 
Members of the U.S. Senate
Members
of the U.S. House of Representatives
 

FROM:            
Alliance for Justice
American
Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty
International USA
Center for Constitutional Rights
Japanese
American Citizens League
National
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Physicians
for Human Rights
United
Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
                      

DATE:            
April 8, 2010 

RE: 
Opposition to the
Purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois-Unless
Congress Also Enacts a Permanent, Statutory Ban on Using the Thomson
Prison for Indefinitely Detaining Persons Without Charge or Trial, or
for Holding Persons During Military Commission Trials or for Serving
Sentences Imposed by Military Commissions

We urge you to oppose legislation authorizing, or appropriating federal
funds for, the purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson,
Illinois, unless Congress, at the same time, also enacts a
permanent, statutory ban on using the Thomson prison for indefinitely
detaining persons without charge or trial, or for holding persons during
military commission trials or for serving sentences imposed by military
commissions. All of our organizations strongly support the responsible
closing of the Guantánamo  Bay detention facility, and we would support
using the Thomson facility for holding any detainees now at Guantánamo
 who may be charged, tried, or sentenced in federal criminal
court. However, we strongly oppose transporting the worst of Guantánamo
policies-indefinite detention without charge or trial and military
commissions-to a prison within the United States itself. If used for one
or both of these purposes, the purchase of the Thomson prison could
result in institutionalizing and perpetuating policies that should
instead end.
 
           

On December 15, 2009, President Obama signed a memorandum directing the
Attorney General and Secretary of Defense to acquire and activate the
Thomson prison for use by the Department of Defense in holding detainees
currently at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and by the Department of
Justice's Bureau of Prisons as a federal penitentiary for holding
prisoners in high security, maximum security conditions. According to a
study by the Council of Economic Advisers last year, the Defense
Department would control 400 of the 1600 cells at the Thomson
prison. The Bureau of Prisons would control the remaining cells.
 
           

On December 15, a number of government officials provided further
details on who would be, and who would not be, held in the portion of
the Thomson prison designated for use by the Defense Department. In a
letter and accompanying questions and answers from the Deputy Secretary
of Defense to Congressman Mark Kirk, the Defense Department stated that
the Thomson prison would be used to imprison Guantánamo  detainees whom
the government is indefinitely detaining without charge or trial under a
claim of detention authority based on the 2001 Authorization for Use of
Military Force, and also Guantánamo  detainees tried before military
commissions or serving sentences imposed by military
commissions. However, the Deputy Secretary's answer to Congressman
Kirk's questions stated that Guantánamo detainees charged and tried
before federal criminal courts would not be housed at the Thomson
prison. Further, in a briefing by a "senior administration official" on
December 15, the official stated that Guantánamo detainees cleared for
release would remain at Guantánamo until transferred to other countries,
and would not go to Thomson.
 
           

There is a right way and a wrong way to close Guantánamo. To date, many
of the steps the Obama Administration has taken-with the support of
many members of Congress, including prominent congressional supporters
of the Thomson purchase-have been in the direction of closing
Guantánamothe right way. The Obama Administration has worked hard to
make charging decisions for detainees whom the government believes
should be prosecuted in federal criminal courts in the United States,
has closely collaborated with important allies of the United States in
repatriating and resettling detainees cleared for release, and has
continued the process of clearing detainees for release or transfer. The
Obama Administration should continue all of these steps until the
population at Guantánamo reaches zero.
 
           

However, there are two developments over the past year that constitute
closing Guantánamo the wrong way. First, the government has reinstituted
the discredited military commissions. The military commissions have now
gone through eight years, two statutes, four sets of rules, but have
only resulted in three convictions, with two of those convicted
detainees now released. By contrast, more than 400 defendants have been
convicted of terrorism-related offense in federal criminal courts. The
military commissions still do not have any rules based on the new
statute, continue to have fundamental problems that could result in
their proceedings being held illegal under the Constitution and
international law, and deservedly lack credibility both at home and
abroad. Second, the government continues to claim authority to
indefinitely detain without charge or trial some of the Guantánamo
detainees. Even if there is legal authority to continue to indefinitely
detain these men, which many of our groups dispute, the government
should make the policy decision that the interests of the United States
are better served by either charging a detainee in federal criminal
court or repatriating or resettling the detainee.
 
           

Based on the government's own statements, it appears that the Defense
Department-run portion of the Thomson prison would house only those
Guantánamo detainees being held pursuant to Guantánamo policies that
should end-namely, military commissions and indefinite detention without
charge or trial. Congress should not authorize, or appropriate money
for the acquisition of the Thomson prison unless it also enacts a
permanent statutory provision that would ensure that the Thomson prison
will not become a U.S.-based prison dedicated to perpetuating Guantánamo
policies that should end.
 
         

Bringing the practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial
to any location within the United States will further harm the rule of
law and adherence to the Constitution. Shortly after President Obama
took office, the government prosecuted and convicted, in federal
criminal court, the only person then-held on U.S. soil indefinitely
without charge or trial. At present, the number of people held within
the U.S. itself indefinitely without charge or trial is zero
. However,
if the Thomson prison is acquired and the current statutory prohibition
on transferring Guantánamo detainees for purposes other than
prosecution is allowed to expire, the number of persons held on U.S.
soil without charge or trial could reportedly rise to 50 or more. 
 

Moreover, Thomson could eventually become the
place to send other persons held indefinitely without charge or
trial-with the prospect of detainees being transferred there from
Bagram, Afghanistan or new captures brought from other locations around
the globe. The unfortunate reality that we would face if Thomson opens
is that it is easier to go from 50 to 100 indefinite detention prisoners
than it is to go from 0 to 1. Once the indefinite detention policy is
institutionalized at Thomson, it will be difficult to hold the line at
former Guantánamo detainees.
 
           

We urge that you oppose the purchase of the Thomson prison unless
Congress, at the same time that it authorizes or funds the purchase,
also enacts a permanent, statutory ban on using the Thomson facility for
indefinite detention without charge or trial or for military
commission-related detention. The current statutory ban on transferring
detainees to the United States for purposes of indefinite detention
without charge or trial expires at the end of the current fiscal
year. Congress should not move forward with the Thomson purchase until
and unless it permanently prohibits indefinite detention and military
commission-related detention at the Thomson facility. 
 
           

We would be very interested in meeting with you or your staff to
discuss this issue further.
 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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