Ill. prison may hold Guantanamo detainees
November 15, 2009 (WLS) -- A nearly vacant prison in northwest Illinois is under consideration as the new home for terror detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Federal officials are expected to visit the maximum-security Thomson Correctional Center Monday. It is located in Thomson, Ill., about 150 miles west of Chicago.
President Obama wants to close Guantanamo Bay. Even his predecessor said it was time close the controversial prison in Cuba. Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn sees selling the prison to the government as a way to create thousands of jobs.
Near the Mississippi River on the northwest side of the state sits an almost empty state-of-the-art $145 million state prison. When Thomson prison opened eight years ago, it promised the tiny town of Thomson, hundreds of jobs, but that never happened.
"We see an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Quinn said.
It's an opportunity to use some of the empty prison space for more than 100 suspected terrorists now being held at Guantanam.
Quinn and Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin say it would mean millions of federal dollars and as many as 3,000 jobs for an already struggling community.
"I'd never chase jobs if I thought it would jeopardize the safety and security of my neighbors and friends," Thomson's mayor, Jerry Hebeler, told CNN.
Several Republicans, especially those running for public office, are convinced jeopardizing safety is exactly what it would do.
"No matter how much money the federal government hrows at us, we should not have al Qaeda terrorists being housed in Illinois," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a candidate for governor.
"A substantial number of people in Illinois are troubled by this, and leaders need to stand up and talk about that," Republican candidate for governor Andy McKenna said.
"I think it jeopardizes security and makes us a target," said Dan Proft, also a Republican candidate for governor.
"At best, these people will then be trying to convert others in the prison to jihad against America, and we've seen that with federal prisoners in New York. At worst, some of the family members and followers that come here will seek to attack us," said U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
Proponents of the idea say Republicans are doing nothing but spreading fear.
"There are over 340 convicted terrorists currently in the prison system in America. They have been safely held without incident," said Durbin.
Durbin also says 35 of those convicted terrorists are being held in Illinois prisons.
Terrorism expert Tom Mockaites does not believe housing the Guantanamo detainees will pose a higher risk.
"They're constantly looking for ways to attack the United States. This neither increases nor decreases that," he said.
In addition, Senator Durbin says there never has been an escape from a 'super max' prison in the history of the U.S.
Despite that, several other Republicans oppose the move to Illinois, including Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady and Congressman Peter Roskam.
If the federal government chooses Thomson, the Illinois General Assembly would have to sign off on it.
illinois news, sarah schulte
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