Thomson Could Hold USS Cole Bombers, 9/11 Plotters

But unlikely that Thomson would be ready until 2011

By BJ Lutz and Steve Bryant
|  Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009  |  Updated 11:09 PM CDT
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Photos: Thomson Correctional Center

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Thomson could hold some of the most notorious terrorism suspects in the world if a plan by the Obama administration to move Guantanamo to the northwest Illinois prison is implemented, federal officials confirmed Tuesday.

The proposed federal prison would hold military trials for the five alleged bombers of the USS Cole and could house some of the 9/11 plotters if they're found guilty in their New York trials, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The confirmation came as state officials held a public hearing in nearby Sterling today.

The hearing was marked by boos and jeers from Republican opponents of the plan, although local leaders and Thomson citizens were clamoring for the economic boost that an in-use prison would bring.

At the hearing, the Defense Department tried to quell any fears by arguing that safety is their number one concern. 

Thomson has become the state's biggest political football in the last few weeks. In Illinois, the prison plan has strong support from Gov. Quinn and Sen. Durbin, but faces opposition from Republicans, who argue any economic boost would be offset by increased security risks.

Despite the heated exchanges, the prison isn't likely to be open anytime soon -- and by soon, think 2011.

Federal officials are now saying it could take 8 to 10 months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades before any prisoners could be transferred.

And those transfers can't begin until the federal government buys the prison from the State of Illinois.

But that purchase is complicated too, and may require the Obama administration to tack the cost of the purchase onto the military budget -- a move sure to stoke political opposition.

Full Coverage: Terrorists in Thomson

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