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Latest update : 2009-12-15

Dozens of detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay are to be transferred to a prison in Illinois, a White House official has announced.

AFP - Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees are to be transferred to an isolated jail in rural Illinois, a White House official said Tuesday, despite strong opposition to bringing them to US soil.

The official confirmation was to be made later Tuesday, the official said, asking not to be named.

President Barack Obama had "directed that the federal government proceed with the acquisition of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois to house federal inmates and a limited number of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," he said.

"Today's announcement is an important step forward as we work to achieve our national security objectives."

It was not immediately clear how many Guantanamo inmates would be housed in Illinois out of the 210 prisoners still held at the notorious jail on a US military base in Cuba.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said 116 will be freed or extradited to their countries of origin.

That would leave less then 100 -- many of them considered too dangerous to be released but who cannot be tried because of a lack of evidence -- still to be rehoused.

President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo jail -- a symbol of US excesses in the "war on terror" -- to be closed by January 22, but has admitted the deadline will slip because of the complexity of the task.

"Closing the detention center at Guantanamo is essential to protecting our national security and helping our troops by removing a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of Al-Qaeda," the White House official added.

The Thomson Correctional Center, located across the Mississippi River from Iowa, has remained virtually empty since it was opened eight years ago, due to budgetary constraints.

It is protected by a 12-foot (four-meter) high exterior fence and a 15-foot (three-meter) interior fence, which includes a dual-sided electric stun barrier.

Illinois officials and lawmakers have lobbied hard to bring the Guantanamo detainees to the state, brushing aside objections from many around the country that it would be folly to house them to America.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, has insisted the prisoners could be held "safely and securely.

"No one has ever escaped from one of these facilities," Durbin told a press conference last month.

He noted that the US prison system already holds "some of the most dangerous people you could imagine" including more than 340 convicted terrorists, gang leaders, and drug cartel members.

The federal government's purchase of the prison could create an estimated 2,340 to 3,250 direct and indirect jobs for the state. It was estimated that the unemployment rate in Carroll County, home to the prison, could be halved.

And the move should pump some 790 million dollars to 1.1 billion dollars into the local economy over four years, according to a preliminary administration analysis.

Durbin, who was to be briefed on the move Tuesday, has previously said that fewer than 100 detainees would be housed in a separate facility within the 1,600-cell prison.

That facility would be run by the Defense Department and would hold "the only group of Guantanamo detainees" on US soil, Durbin said.

Governor Pat Quinn called the anticipated sale of the prison to the federal government a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

And he insisted the prison would bring much-needed jobs to the state, arguing the public was not at risk. "We're not going to let the fear-mongers carry the day," Quinn said last month.

Date created : 2009-12-15

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