WASHINGTON — Taking an important step on the thorny path to closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the White House plans to announce today that the government will acquire an underutilized state prison in rural Illinois to be the new home for a limited number of terrorist suspects.
Administration officials as well as Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will make an official announcement at the White House.
Officials from the White House and Durbin's office confirmed that President Obama had directed the government to acquire Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill., a town about 150 miles from Chicago.
A Durbin spokesman said the facility would house federal inmates and no more than 100 detainees from Guantanamo.
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The facility in Thomson had emerged as a clear front- runner after Illinois officials, led by Durbin, enthusiastically embraced the idea of turning a near-dormant prison over to federal officials.
The Thomson Correctional Center was one of several sites evaluated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to potentially house detainees from the Navy-run prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Closing Guantanamo is a top priority for Obama, and he signed an executive order hours into his presidency directing that the process of closing the prison begin. Obama has said he wants terrorism suspects transferred to American soil so they can be tried for their suspected crimes.
The Thomson Correctional Center was built by Illinois in 2001 as a state prison with the potential to house maximum security inmates. Local officials hoped it would improve the local economy, providing jobs to a hard-hit community. State budget problems, however, have kept the 1,600-cell prison from ever fully opening. At present, it houses about 200 minimum-security inmates.
Some Illinois officials have not supported the idea. GOP Rep. Mark Kirk, who is seeking Obama's old Senate seat, said he believes moving Guantanamo detainees to Illinois will make the state a greater threat for terrorist attacks. Kirk has lobbied other officials to contact the White House in opposition to using the facility.