WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal government will buy an Illinois prison that the Obama administration once considered as a successor to the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday.
Holder said the Thomson Correctional Center will house U.S. inmates and that there are no plans to revive a 2009 effort to move some Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
Congress blocked funding for President Barack Obama’s idea and tightly restricted all transfers from the camp at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba.
“I have committed that no Guantanamo detainees will be transferred to Thomson. As you know, any such transfer would violate express legal statutory prohibitions,” Holder said in a letter to Representative Frank Wolf, who fought the proposal.
The prison, built for the state of Illinois but never fully occupied, is expected to hold up to 2,800 high-security inmates, relieving overcrowding in the sprawling federal system.
The $165 million price tag is less than the cost of building a similar prison, Holder said. The money will come from a fund of illegal assets forfeited to the government, not from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ regular budget controlled by Congress.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, reacting to the purchase, said it was timed to help Obama in the November 6 presidential election.
“This election-eve purchase comes at the expense of delaying approved projects that are not in the president’s home state,” he said in a statement.
Obama spent most of his adult life in Illinois.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said the move would create 1,000 jobs in the area. Thomson, 150 miles west of Chicago, is across the Mississippi River from Iowa.
The Guantanamo camp was set up after the September 11, 2001, attacks to hold those suspected of involvement with al Qaeda, the Taliban or other militant groups.
Congressional opposition has blocked Obama’s pledge to close the facility, which is seen as fueling anti-U.S. sentiment around the world. There were 167 inmates remaining as of last month.
Civil liberties advocates say the indefinite detentions at Guantanamo are illegal or unjustified, an argument they say would carry over to the Thomson prison.
Editing by Xavier Briand