THOMSON - With U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (R-17) lauding an additional $57M headed to Thomson prison to make it operational later this year, rumors are heating up again that the Thomson prison will become North GITMO, where enemy combatants will be moved from Guatanamo Bay, Cuba.
Congress passed a law specifically keeping terrorists from being sent to American soil, but the closing of the GITMO prison remains one of Obama’s unfulfilled 2008 campaign promises.
Illinois Review asked Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-16) if the concerns are justified about threats to society, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the 2001 attacks, being transferred to Illinois.
"In my mind, there should always be concern [about the Obama Administration moving Gitmo detainees into Thomson] because as the President said back in 2009, they made it clear that’s what they wanted to do,” Kinzinger said. "We put it in the law that they could not do that, but we’ve seen the Administration act as if the law doesn’t matter - as in the Bergdahl release."
Kinzinger said he supports opening the Thomson prison to be used for domestic criminals because federal prisons are 53% overcrowded, and there is a need for Thomson and for jobs it would provide in the area.
"But if they want to use it as the new Gitmo, they’re going to have to fight Congress on it. We made a law that that can’t happen,” Kinzinger said.
The prison was built in 1999 with Illinois taxpayer dollars, stood unoccupied for 13 years before it was sold to the federal government in 2012 for $165 million.
The federal government has designated Thomson to be an “Administrative Maximum U.S. Pentitentiary” (ADX/USP). Only one other prison in the nation holds that designation. There 400 prisoners live in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. The isolation is considered so extreme that human rights groups consider the confinement to be torture.
Bobby Schilling, who is challenging Bustos to regain his Congressional seat, said he worked hard to get Thomson opened as a federal prison when he was in office from 2010 to 2012. However, Schilling is opposed to filling the prison with 100 or so detainees now in Gitmo.
Schilling has always been adamant that the U.S. not import Al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders who present an absolute threat to the prison's surrounding region.
“Their fanatical followers have demonstrated they will go to extreme lengths to free them,” Jon Schweppe, Schilling’s communications director said Monday. "The danger would be severe to the surrounding region if any remaining GITMO terrorists—'the worst of the worst'—were to be transferred from the absolute safety of GITMO to a place surrounded by civilian population.”
Other issues at stake are that GITMO prisoners moved from Cuba to American soil in Illinois would provide for them to be treated according to the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Former Congressman Schilling says there are safer ways to utilize Thomson prison than bringing terrorists from GITMO here.
"He believes it is a violation of the oath of office for any federal official to seek such a perilous quick fix for political gain when it would directly put innocent lives at severe risk,” Schweppe said for Schilling. "Federal officials need to do their job and find a way to open Thomson prison for the purpose for which it was designed—to house domestic criminals who do not possess massive international funding for fellow terrorists who would sacrifice their own lives in an elaborate plot to free their leaders.
Kinzinger agreed with Schilling.
"Frankly, I don’t think the American people want to see the evil men from Gitmo here in our country, and especially our state,” Kinzinger said. "We’re going to stay on top of it, and people should always pay attention and be concerned, but we’re going to do everything we can from the House of Representatives to keep that transfer from happening."
Kinzinger said those concerned about the possible transfer should let their congress members know. “And although it probably won’t matter, contact Senator Dick Durbin, too,” he said.