Feds consider Ill. prison for terror suspects

November 17, 2009 8:22:14 AM PST
The residents of Thomson, Illinois rolled out the red carpet Monday for a team of federal inspectors.The group toured the town's prison which could become the home for the terrorist suspects now being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The move could mean thousands of jobs for the town but some people say the proposal is a big risk.

Top Democrats like Gov. Pat Quinn and Senator Dick Durbin are supporters.

But many Republicans oppose the plan to move the prisoners.

Thomson, Illinois is a small community of nearly 600 people in the northwestern corner of the state.

ABC7 found no one opposed to selling the vacant prison to the feds for cash and the promise of jobs and economic development in Carroll County. But there is concern about one of the strings attached to the deal: that the prison be used to house suspected terrorists who are now detained at Camp X-ray in Cuba.

Mark Kirk, who is also a Navy reserve intelligence officer, was surrounded by Republican colleagues in the Illinois congressional delegation. They're concerned that 215 Guantanamo Bay detainees would have rights under the U.S. Constitution if housed in the prison built by the state near Thomson in Carroll County.

"We're not in the business of giving constitutional rights to terrorists. That's the reason that Gitmo Bay was set up in the first place," said Rep. Don Manzullo, (R) Illinois.

"Is this what we want to know for? For Gitmo, USA," said Rep. Judy Biggert, (R) Illinois.

Late last week, Gov. Pat Quinn confirmed the financially-strapped state was in negotiations to sell the unused, 1,600 bed prison for about $150 million. The Federal Bureau of Prisons would incarcerate inmates there and set aside just over 200 beds for the defense department to house suspected terrorists transferred from Guantanamo Bay.

"They believe this will work and will save us money," said Sen. Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

"We're not going to have a bunch of naysaying congressmen who are fearful lead us astray," said Quinn.

Congressman Kirk--who's running for the U.S. Senate--says ten visitors each for 215 suspected terrorists would create dangerous traffic to and from northwestern Illinois.

"With the busiest airport in the world and the tallest building in North America, I do not think we should make Chicagoland the center of jihadi attention in the world," said Kirk.

But Durbin called Kirk's claim "patently wrong" and "totally false," noting that military prisoners are not allowed visitors.

"There is no visitation right other than from legal counsel and there have been no visitations of any other family or visitors at Guantanamo, nor would there be in the United States," said Durbin.

Gov. Quinn does not need legislative approval or public hearings to sell Thomson. The governor says he will make the deal if the feds say they want the prison.

The critics also have some transparency questions. The negotiations were under wraps until Friday afternoon and the feds were touring Thomson Monday morning. Congressman Don Manzullo--in whose district the prison is located--found about it just like the rest of us.


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