Gitmo Prisoners: Where to Hold Military Tribunals?

By Kamika Dunlap on November 23, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Obama administration plans to close Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and begin prosecutions.

So now where will the Gitmo prisoners be transferred and housed?

Perhaps to an empty state prison in Thomson, Illinois -- 150 miles west of Chicago.

The proposal has polarized local residents and state officials.

On one side, 450 residents of the small town of Thomson are mostly welcoming and say it would bring back jobs to the area.

On the other side, several Illinois lawmakers say placing detainees there would be too risky and make Chicago a target for terrorists.

The debate raises an age old question of problems or progress.

The prison was built in 2001 with the promise of thousands of jobs but has sat vacant because of state budget problems.

The Thomson Correctional Center and the state's maximum-security prison have been identified as a site for military trials of those charged with acts of terrorism, the Chicago News reports.

Federal officials say keeping military tribunals at the same location would eliminate prisoners having to leave prison before trial, reducing any potential security threats.

However, as previously discussed here, sorting out justice can be complicated. Different factors are used to decide which detainees get civilian trials versus military trials.

Federal officials were at the Thomson prison recently to inspect it and meet with state and local authorities.

Many detainees have been approved for transfer to other countries, and a handful will be moved directly to New York to stand trial.

About 215 detainees remain at Guantánamo and of those 90 have been cleared for release.

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Chicago's northern suburbs is concerned about detainees that would be housed at Thomson that will have to stand federal trials.

It still would expose the area to security risks, he said.

Kirk says he plans to request that the administration look at potential threats to O'Hare International Airport and the Willis Tower.

Kirk and other lawmakers say the governor and state legislature should be required to approve such a move.

Obama administration officials maintain that the location of the detention center does not necessarily dictate the site of federal court trials.

Federal officials are also considering other nearby locations including including the maximum-security prison in Standish, Michigan.

In the past, New York and Virginia were the chosen locations and could be the another likely choice for future trials.

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