WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has ordered the federal government to acquire an underused state prison in rural Illinois to be the new home for a limited number of terror suspects now held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The federal government will acquire Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill., transforming the prison in a sleepy town near the Mississippi River into a prison that exceeds "supermax standards," according to a letter to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and director of national intelligence Dennis C. Blair.
Those departments "will work closely with state and local law enforcement authorities to identify and mitigate any risks" at the prison, the letter said.
The decision is an important step toward closing Guantanamo Bay. Thomson, about 150 miles from Chicago, is expected to house federal inmates and no more than 100 detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The $145 million prison built in 2001 is now home to fewer than 200 minimum security inmates.
Speaking after a briefing with White House officials on Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin and Quinn cast the decision to accept Guantanamo detainees as an act of patriotism — one with the added bonus of job creation.
"Time and time again the people of Illinois have risen to the task," Durbin said. "We believe this is in service of our country."
White House national security adviser James Jones said shifting detainees to Thomson would make the United States more secure and removes "a recruiting tool that Guantanamo Bay has come to symbolize" for terror organizations.
The officials said military tribunals for potential detainees would be held at Thomson.
They also said that the facility could house detainees whom the president determines must be held indefinitely but can't be tried.