Durbin, Quinn support Ill. terror prison

November 17, 2009 (CHICAGO) Durbin's comments Monday come as several Republican leaders, including U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, cite safety concerns with housing suspected terrorists in western Illinois.

Durbin says if the federal government buys the Thomson Correctional Center, it will become even more secure than its current maximum-security status. He says that includes building another perimeter fence around the facility in rural Carroll County.

Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn are defending the proposal, saying it would be a life line to the economically depressed area.

Quinn declined to say how much the prison, built in 2001, would sell for, citing the need for appraisal.

Federal authorities toured the 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.

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 may be used to house suspected terrorists who are now detained at Camp X-ray in Cuba.

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.

"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 be known for? For Gitmo, USA?" said Rep. Judy Biggert, (R) Illinois.

Late last week, 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 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 nor 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 Manzullo--in whose district the prison is located--found about it just like the rest of the general public.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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