“I remain opposed to transferring Guantanamo detainees to Illinois, or anywhere in the U.S., while awaiting more detailed information on what’s being proposed, including potential security threats and plans for resolving detainees’ final status. As of yet, I have seen neither."
- Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL), November 18, 2009
On Tuesday, December 15, 2009, the Obama Administration announced that it will buy the Thomson Correctional Center, a State prison in Thompson, Illinois, for the purpose of housing up to 100 detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This move would be a precursor to shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which President Obama proposed in a January 2009 executive order. According to the executive order, Guantanamo Bay would be shut by late January 2010, though that deadline will clearly be missed. Before detainees can be moved, however, Congress must vote to allow detainees to be housed on U.S. soil for reasons other than trial. The House Republican Conference has compiled several reason why bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. is dangerous, jeopardizes justice, and is a poor use of taxpayer funds.
Jeopardizing Justice: The Thomson prison is located in the Northern District of Illinois, meaning that any civilian prosecution of terrorist detainees held there would probably occur in Rockford or downtown Chicago. In Illinois, terrorist detainees may well enjoy the legal rights and benefits of U.S. citizens and resident aliens under the Constitution. According to the Congressional Research Service, "non-citizens held in the United States may be entitled to more protections under the Constitution than those detained abroad." If tried by civilian courts, the government would be forced to reveal all of its intelligence on detainees and how it obtained it. Additionally, treating the terrorist attacks as a simple criminal matter rather than an act of war will hinder U.S. efforts to fight terrorism and sends the wrong signal to U.S. enemies abroad. Costly civilian court trials for detainees moved to Illinois will also likely take years. Additionally, at a civilian trial, prosecutors would be forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on detainees, along with the methods and sources used in acquiring it. This will enable al Qaeda to better understand our intelligence-gathering techniques and respond accordingly. For example, Osama bin Laden used U.S. government information revealed during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing criminal trial to update and enhance his techniques.
Wasting Taxpayer Dollars: The Federal Bureau of Prisons estimates that purchasing the Thomson prison would cost the federal government about $120 million up front and $65 million to $85 million annually to operate. The state-of-the-art detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was built at a cost of over $50 million for the explicit purpose of keeping terrorists away from U.S. soil. Members may be concerned that scrapping the Guantanamo Bay facility for a more expensive one in the U.S. is an imprudent use of taxpayer dollars during a recession. Holding and prosecuting detainees in Illinois would also place a significant cost burden on the State and local governments, as well as pose an enormous inconvenience to residents and taxpayers. If the Moussaoui trial is an example, Rockford or Chicago will be a scene of rooftop snipers, bomb-sniffing dogs inspecting cars, identification checks, and heavily armed patrols.
Risking Security: Moving almost 100 terrorist detainees to Illinois would likely increase the focus of terrorists on the State and especially Chicago metropolitan area, possibly making the region a target. The Chicago area is home to about 9.5 million residents, the tallest building in the U.S. (Sears Tower) and the busiest airport in the nation (O'Hare International). The people of Illinois and the Midwest should not be subjected to such a greater security threat unnecessarily.
Thomson Correctional Center: The Thomson Correctional Center is an eight-year-old State prison located in rural Thomson, Illinois, near the border with Iowa. The facility is about 150 miles from Chicago. The 1,600-bed State prison currently holds about 200 minimum security inmates. Some Members may be concerned that the Thomson prison does not have facilities for civilian trials or military commissions, and the closest hospital for surgery or intensive care is about 10 miles away, in Iowa.
Democrats have yet to explain how closing Guantanamo Bay and moving terrorists to the U.S. will make Americans safer. Republicans have proposed H.R. 2294, the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which gives Congress an opportunity to stand with the American people by affirming their opposition to releasing the terrorists at Guantanamo prison or bringing them into the U.S. The bill makes clear that governors and State legislatures must pre-approve the transfer or release of any terrorist detainee into their respective states. Lastly, it requires the President to meet strict criteria and certification standards before terrorists housed at the Guantanamo prison could be brought to the United States. For more information, visit http://www.gop.gov/detainees.