WASHINGTON-President Obama announced his intention Tuesday to transfer up to 100 Guantanamo Bay detainees to an underused state prison in Illinois. The federal government will buy the maximum security facility and upgrade it to hold the war on terror prisoners.
Rep. Dan Manzullo, R-Ill., whose district includes the Thomson Correctional Center, objects to the decision, but not because he's worried about prisoners escaping. Rather, he said, the detainees would make the community a "lightening rod."
"Guantanamo Bay is surrounded by water and sharks," he said. "Thomson, Ill., is surrounded by melon fields and soybeans and corn."
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin supports the proposal along with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. But Manzullo and other Illinois Republicans aren't enthusiastic, even as the White House characterized the decision as a spur to create 3,000 local jobs.
"This has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with politics," said Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., questioning why the president had to turn to his home state.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs condemned what he called "scare tactics" on the matter.
Illinois Republican congresswoman Judy Biggert countered, "This world is a dangerous place and we're at war with terrorists whose goal is death. These enemy combatants do not belong in civil courts."
Republicans have begun calling the prison "Gitmo North." "The Obama administration is not closing Gitmo, it's moving Gitmo," said Rep. Pete Roskam, R-Ill. Administration officials said Tuesday that the Illinois prison would hold the 75-plus detainees that the government expects to imprison indefinitely without trial.
If that's the case, some questioned the constitutionality of holding prisoners without trial in the United States. Gibbs said the president "does not seek new authority," but that the government did have the authority to hold them domestically under post-9/11 law. As for the question of additional cost, Gibbs said that the price of operating the Thomson facility would be about half of the cost of running Guantanamo Bay's prison (though the initial costs to update the facility and transfer the detainees will be substantial). Congress has forbidden funds in various spending bills to be used to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States, and polls show that the majority of Americans oppose domestic transfers. But the administration has had little success finding other solutions or countries willing to take the prisoners.
"This leaves us with a whole lot more questions than it does answers," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich, who is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.