A significant number of the remaining 215 inmates of Guantánamo Bay could be transferred to a maximum-security prison in rural Illinois, according to a source in President Barack Obama's administration.
source described the Thomson Correctional Centre, a 1,600-cell maximum
security facility built in 2001, as the "leading contender" to house a
number of suspected terrorists detained at the Guantánamo Bay base in
Cuba, which Obama has vowed to close.
The president, a former
Illinois senator, is understood to have spoken to the state governor,
fellow Democrat Pat Quinn, about the issue. The prison, 150 miles from
Chicago, has never been fully operational because of budget problems
and now houses 200 minimum-security prisoners. Under the proposal, it
would be sold to the federal government to be used as a "super-maximum"
Speculation over where Guantánamo inmates would be
housed has been heightened after Friday's announcement that the five
key alleged plotters in the 9/11 attacks – including Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed – will be tried by a civilian court in New York, in the same
district where the Twin Towers once stood.
The US Justice
Department also announced the legal processes that other detainees
would face, including an alleged plotter in the bombing of the US
destroyer Cole in 2000, who will go before a military tribunal.
decision to try Mohammed and four other suspects in a federal court
before a jury has already provoked a heated debate in the US. Critics
have questioned the staging of a civil trial for those who see
themselves as engaged in a conflict with America and the west.
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decision to move detainees from Guantánamo to the US – already opposed
by many US politicians and banned by Congress – would also be highly
Thomson prison is near the Iowa border on the
Mississippi river. It is surrounded by a double fence, which is partly
electrified. According to the Illinois state department of corrections,
Thomson's "design, movement patterns and programming options... allow a
strong community of order to be maintained... [with] inmates [able to]
be monitored under constant armed and electronic surveillance".
has been a forceful advocate of the sale of the prison, writing
recently to the attorney general and secretary for defence in a letter
leaked to the Chicago Tribune. He said last week he intended
to announce a plan for the prison in the next few days. In his letter
he stated: "I understand that you are still considering other options
but the Federal Bureau of Prisons would be hard-pressed to find a
similar facility with such extensive safety and security measures
already in place anywhere in America."
Thomson, which has been
hard hit by the recession, appears to have few objections. When the
idea was floated earlier this year the town's mayor, Jerry Hebeler,
said he would not argue if the government wanted to house Guantánamo
detainees in the prison.
"They can't be any worse than any murderer," Hebeler told a local newspaper in May. "It's maximum security. It's for that."
plan would, however, require a change to the law that prevents the
transfer of Guantánamo detainees to US soil except for trial
proceedings. This would suggest that the Obama administration intends
to push through prosecutions of more detainees, or it believes that
with such strong support from the local communityit would make it
easier to push the plan through Congress.