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Americas

US to move 'limited number' of detainees to Illinois

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-16

Dozens of detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay are to be transferred to a prison in Illinois, US President Barack Obama has directed.

AFP - US President Barack Obama has decided to transfer dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees to an isolated jail in rural Illinois amid moves to close the notorious facility, officials said Tuesday.

"The president has directed, with our unanimous support, that the federal government proceed with the acquisition of the facility in Thomson," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a letter.

But they stressed: "The president has no intention of releasing any detainees in the United States," adding that such a move is barred under current US legislation.

It was not immediately clear how many of the 210 inmates still held at the US military base in Cuba would be transferred to the Illinois jail, where they will be kept in a separate part of the prison from other detainees.

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.

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.

"Not only will this help address the urgent overcrowding problem at our nation's federal prisons, but it will also help achieve our goal of closing the detention center at Guantanamo in a timely, secure, and lawful manner," the letter added.

The Department of Justice would acquire the prison "primarily to house federal inmates," the letter said, adding more space was needed to address current overcrowding issues in the US prison system.

"Second, the Defense Department will operate part of the facility to house a limited number of detainees from Guantanamo," it said.

"The two parts of the facility will be managed separately, and federal inmates will have no opportunity to interact with Guantanamo detainees."

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 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.

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

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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