Thomson Chosen for Gitmo Detainees

White House will make official announcement Tuesday

By BJ Lutz
|  Thursday, Dec 17, 2009  |  Updated 6:14 PM CDT
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NBC5 goes inside the


NBC5 goes inside the "Illinois Gitmo."

President Obama hsa directed the federal government to buy the near-empty state prison in rural Thomson, Ill., to house up to 100 detainees from Guantanamo Bay, officials confirmed Monday.

After weeks of federal consideration and local speculation, The White House will announce the decision Tuesday. Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn will attend the official announcement at the White House.

A Durbin spokesman said the facility would house federal inmates and no more than 100 detainees.

Both Quinn and Durbin have been vocal proponents of the plan, arguing the move to Thomson will create more than 3,800 jobs in Illinois. Residents from Thomson have been split.

State Republicans have vociferously opposed the plan.

The Thomson decision is part of a complicated plan for shutting down the controversial Guantanamo detention center, which has become a focal point for criticism of anti-American sentiment.

As one of the first acts of his presidency, Obama ordered the center shuttered -- but doing so has proven a difficult proposition, largely due to the logistics of where to move the center's 210 terrorism suspects.

Thomson Prison proved an attractive candidate due to its rural location near the Mississippi River and the Iowa state line, and its under-utilization. The prison was completed in 2001 but left largely vacant due to changing budget priorities after the 9/11 attacks.

The plan has been under consideration for weeks. Just days ago, Durbin said the facility was a leading candidate and that a decision on where to house the federal prisoners was imminent.

Previously, aides said the federal government would operate Thomson as a prison for its highest-risk inmates and allocate a portion to the Department of Defense for Guantanamo detainees.

The administration has also considered operating military tribunals at the prison.

A state hearing on Thomson, which would make an advisory recommendation Quinn on accepting or rejecting the Guantanamo transfer, is currently scheduled for Dec. 22 in nearby Sterling. But the Quinn administration has said that lawmakers don't need to pass legislation for the sale to take place.

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