Government may move detainees to Thomson

December 11, 2009 8:18:29 PM PST
Terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba may be a big step closer to being transferred to northern Illinois.ABC News confirms the attorney general has already drafted a preliminary order making the move.

It's part of a plan for the federal government to take over a nearly empty correctional center in Thomson.

The tiny Illinois town appears to be on the verge of getting many more residents. A draft White House memo lays it out. It says:

"The Attorney General shall as expeditiously as possible acquire and activate the [Thomson Correctional Center] as a United States Penitentiary." And the "Secretary of Defense shall relocate detainees currently held at the Guantanamo Detention Facility."

Friday night, the White House continues to say Thomson is a leading contender, but a spokesperson insists a final decision has not been made.

"We have a secure, safe maximum security prison that can do the job," Governor Pat Quinn said. Quinn says he's encouraged by news of a possible decision.

Construction on the prison was completed in 2001 at a cost to taxpayers of $145 million. However, the state never allocated enough money to operate the facility, so it has sat largely vacant.

Quinn says that could change in a matter of months.

"We have to sell the prison to the federal government. We'll get fair market value, and I think it'll be considerable: in the millions and millions of dollars," Quinn said.

U.S. Prison officials toured Thomson last month.

They were shopping for a maximum security prison to house federal prisoners. Only a fraction of those -- fewer than 100 -- would be detainees currently held at Guantanamo.

Nevertheless, one suspected terrorist in Illinois is one too many for the comfort of some.

"As you raise the profile of your community in the Jihadi world, the benefit they see in attacking a city increases," U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk said at the time.

"From what I've heard so far, Thomson would even be more secure. That would make me sleep better," said Thomson Mayor Jerry "Duke" Hebeler.

The federal government has to pay fair market value for the prison. Governor Quinn hopes that could mean anywhere between $150 to $200 million for the state.

Although it's not a done deal yet, signs are pointing in that direction, with an official announcement expected in days.


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