State Holds Hearings on Thomson Prison

By Andrew Greiner and BJ Lutz
|  Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009  |  Updated 9:26 PM CDT
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Photos: Thomson Correctional Center

AP Images / M. Spencer Green

Protesters gather outside a Illinois legislative hearing Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009 in Sterling, Ill. regarding an Obama administration decision to buy the underused Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill. to house up to 100 Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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Testimony at the first state hearing on a plan to bring alleged terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to a northwest Illinois prison appeared evenly split between supporters and critics.

Held in a high school auditorium in Sterling, Ill., about 20 miles from Thomson and its forboding correctional center, critics panned the plan, saying it could make the state a terrorist target.  Supporters touted the site's security and said it would boost the local economy.

Denise Cattoni of the Illinois TEA Party organization told the panel that Americans arent being told enough about the implications of any such transfer.

She said they merely woke up one morning and were told "Gitmo was moving to Illinois."

"Terrorists would want to hit us to make a point, here in the Midwest, in the American heartland," protester Amanda Norms said before the meeting. "Is a little economic gain worth the risk?"

Jay Alan Liotta, the Defense Department's principal director in the office of detainee policy, insisted the area would be safe.

"Allow me to be perfectly clear: The security of the facility and that of the surrounding community is our paramount concern," he told the panel.

President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers have said that activating Thomson could create 840-910 temporary jobs and 3,180-3,880 ongoing jobs, increasing local earnings by a cumulative $793 to $1,015 million.

The 12-member commission could vote Tuesday evening on a recommendation to sell it Thomson. But even if they oppose it, the recommendation isn't binding on Gov. Pat Quinn.

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