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US Buying Prison for Guantanamo Detainees

An aerial view of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson , Illinois (File)
An aerial view of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson , Illinois (File)
Kent Klein

President Barack Obama has ordered the purchase of a state prison in the central U.S. to house some terror suspects now being held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The underused Thomson Correctional Center is in the president's home state of Illinois.

Shortly after taking office, President Obama said he wanted Guantanamo Bay closed by January 2010.  Administration officials now admit that that deadline will not be met.

But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the acquisition of the Illinois prison will move the president closer to his goal. 

"The announcement today that the president has instructed the Bureau of Prisons to begin the purchase of the Thomson facility in Illinois is a big step in that process of closing Guantanamo Bay," said Robert Gibbs.

Fewer than 100 detainees from Guantanamo Bay would be transferred to the Illinois prison, and the administration has not presented a timetable for moving them.  White House officials say they will have to work with Congress to change laws and approve funding before the transfers could begin.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs says removing terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay would hamper the propaganda and recruitment efforts of the al-Qaida terror network.

"Thirty-two times since 2001 and four times this year alone, senior al-Qaida leadership, in recruiting videos, have used the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a clarion call to bring extremists from around the world to join their effortm" he said.

Gibbs says military tribunals for potential detainees would be held at the prison.

After meeting with the president  on Tuesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said the Thomson facility, which is in a rural part of his state, will be transformed into the nation's most secure prison.

"Security enhancements that are going to be put in at the Thomson prison, which has been a nearly vacant prison in Illinois for about eight years, will make it the most secure maximum security prison in our country of all time," said Pat Quinn.

Many Republican lawmakers are concerned that moving high-profile terror suspects to U.S. soil poses a security risk.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the administration has failed to explain how moving the detainees to Illinois would make the public safer than keeping them in Cuba.  And Representative Mike Pence says the president is putting international public relations ahead of U.S. public safety. 
 

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