UPDATE 1-Illinois prison eyed to house Guantanamo detainees

Sun Nov 15, 2009 5:08pm EST

Related Topics

* Obama aide: moving toward Guantanamo closure, no date

* Illinois eyes new jobs from federal use of prison

* Kansas, Michigan locations also being considered

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CHICAGO, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Obama administration officials will visit a virtually empty Illinois prison this week as a possible location to house foreign terrorism suspects moved from the Guantanamo Bay prison President Barack Obama has vowed to shut, the state's governor's office said on Sunday.

"They are weighing their options and Illinois is among them," said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat.

The plan being considered for the Thomson Correctional Center, pitched by Quinn in a recent meeting with Obama, calls for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to operate it as a maximum-security prison and lease a portion to the Defense Department to house fewer than 100 Guantanamo detainees.

The plans could include a purchase of the facility by the federal government, Quinn said.

The Thomson Correctional Center, located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) west of Chicago, was built by the state in 2001 and has 1,600 cells, but houses only about 150 minimum-security prisoners. The facility sits on 146 acres (59 hectares) and is enclosed by a 12-foot (3.6- meter) exterior fence and 15-foot (4.6-meter) interior fence.

A preliminary economic impact analysis found that federal operation of the facility could generate between 2,340 and 3,250 ongoing jobs. The analysis estimates that the overall injection of funds into the local economy would be between $790 million and $1.09 billion over the first four years.

"This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good-paying jobs and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois," said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

There are 215 detainees at the controversial prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison which Obama has vowed to close by Jan. 22. However, political and legal hurdles are making it difficult for his administration to meet that goal.

"We may not hit it on the date, but we will close Guantanamo. And we are making good progress toward doing that," White House senior advisor David Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I'm not going to put a deadline on it ... But we are going to get it done," Axelrod added.

Many Republicans have been harshly critical of the idea of moving Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, saying it could encourage further terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

"I can't imagine the people of Illinois would like to have these prisoners incarcerated in their state. There may be some local officials who are going to support it, but I expect it will be a huge issue up in Illinois, probably in the U.S. Senate race up there next year," U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told "Fox News Sunday."

Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and a facility in Standish, Michigan, were other sites officials have said were also being considered.

The White House declined comment on the Thomson facility, and a White House aide said multiple options are being considered.

The United States has faced international criticism for holding foreign terrorism suspects indefinitely, many without charges, and for using interrogation techniques that critics call torture at the Guantanamo facility. (Reporting by Carey Gillam, additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Jackie Frank)

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