Illinois prison may not house Guantanamo prisoners after all

In December, the Obama administration signaled its intention to move some federal prisoners as well as detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Clinton, Iowa.

However, on May 19 the House Armed Services Committee “unanimously approved a defense bill for 2011 that bans spending money to build or modify any facility inside the United States to house Guantánamo detainees,” the New York Times reported.

At TalkLeft, Jeralyn posted an excerpt from the bill summary:

The Committee firmly believes that the construction or modification of any facility in the U.S. to detain or imprison individuals currently being held at Guantanamo must be accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility. No such plan has been presented to date. The bill prohibits the use of any funds for this purpose. Additionally, the bill requires the Secretary of Defense to present Congress with a report that adequately justifies any proposal to build or modify such a facility in the future.

Last fall prominent Iowa Republicans fanned fears about terrorists in the heartland as a political weapon against President Obama and Representative Bruce Braley, who represents the Iowa counties closest to Thomson, Illinois. At the time, Braley expressed support for the plan to convert the Illinois facility, saying his constituents “have told me with a resounding voice they want these jobs to come to their area.” Some jobs will almost certainly come to the area in 2011 or 2012, because the federal government still plans to purchase and renovate the Thomson Correctional Center to use for federal prisoners, with or without detainees from Guantanamo.

Iowa Democrats Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell are among the 61 members of the House Armed Services Committee. I don’t know whether they were present at Wednesday’s meeting, where the defense authorization bill passed by a 59 to 0 vote.

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Some Guantanamo prisoners will be moved to Illinois prison

Talking Points Memo reports,

On Tuesday, the administration will announce that the president has directed that the federal government proceed with the acquisition of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois to house federal inmates and a limited number of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times has more details:

In addition to the detainees, several hundred federal prisoners will be moved to the Thomson facility, which was built in 2001 to house state prisoners but has instead stood nearly empty as local officials have vainly tried to fill it. […]

The prison, if the deal goes through, will be run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, according to the administration’s plan. The agency is expected to bring 1,600 to 2,000 prisoners to the Thomson facility.

Authorities will also spend some time bulking up security.

The federal Bureau of Prisons will add razor wire between the existing double fences and beef up the existing fence detection system. The Defense Department, which would lease a portion of the facility, would also erect another perimeter fence around the 146-acre complex, according to plans.

The administration has said it would exceed security at the country’s only “Supermax” prison in Colorado.

It’s not clear precisely how many foreign detainees would be brought to Thomson, though [Senator Dick] Durbin [of Illinois] has put the number at less than 100.

Get ready for more Republican scare tactics aimed at undermining Representative Bruce Braley, who represents the Clinton area, just across the Mississippi River from Thomson. I doubt the Iowa GOP will get much traction from this issue, though. The Des Moines Register’s conservative columnist, John Carlson, recently found broad support in Clinton for the plan to expand the Thomson facility.

Braley said last month that his constituents “have told me with a resounding voice they want these jobs to come to their area.”

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Guantanamo prisoners to be moved to Illinois?

The conservative blog biggovernment.com published an alleged December 10 memo from the Department of Justice to Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorizing the transfer of some prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. The center was built to be a high-security state prison but has mostly remained mothballed for lack of state funding to operate it. Elected officials in Illinois have urged the federal government to use this facility to house some of the alleged terrorist prisoners because doing so is expected to create around 3,000 jobs in the area.

Iowa Republicans have been hammering Bruce Braley (IA-01) over this proposal, because the Thomson facility is just across the river from Clinton, Iowa. However, Braley says his constituents overwhelmingly favor the plan.

I will update this post if other reports confirm the authenticity of the memo.

UPDATE: Ed Tibbetts reported for the Quad-City Times:

An administration official, responding to the memo Friday, cautioned that it is only a draft and said it is not unusual for such documents to be prepared for multiple possibilities.

“This is a draft, predecisional document that lawyers at various agencies were drafting in preparation for a potential future announcement about where to house Gitmo detainees,” the official said.

“Drafts of official documents are often prepared for any and all possibilities, regardless of whether a decision has been made about the policy or if the document will be used,” said the official, who requested not to be identified because the person was not authorized to discuss the issue.

Despite the cautions, top Illinois backers were reacting positively to the development.

“Even though the final decision has not been made, we are encouraged by this development,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement.

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Braley says constituents support plan for Illinois prison

Representative Bruce Braley has rejected Republican critics of a proposal to transfer some prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the Thomson Correctional Center, just across the Mississippi River from Clinton.

“The time for fear-mongering is over,” Braley said. “I have listened to my constituents all week, and they have told me with a resounding voice they want these jobs to come to their area.”

According to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the plan for Thomson “would create 840 to 910 temporary jobs and between 3,180 and 3,880 ongoing jobs over the first four years,” and local residents could fill as many as 1,400 of those jobs.

Iowa Republicans don’t appear ready to stop stoking fears about terrorists coming to a prison near you. State GOP chairman Matt Strawn’s November 20 e-mail blast slammed Braley, along with Representatives Leonard Boswell and Dave Loebsack:

On the only vote specifically related to keeping these terrorists off American soil, all three voted to welcome them with open arms. Now Iowans face the prospect of them being housed minutes from our state.

Iowa’s Republican members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King both voted in support of the legislation keeping terrorist detainees out of the U.S. […]

Additionally, Congressman Latham this week introduced the ‘Keep Terrorists out of the Midwest Act” following the news that the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill., has emerged as a leading option for prosecution and incarceration.

I gather that Republicans are confident this is a winning issue for them, but is there any evidence that Iowans are afraid to have prisoners moved to a maximum-security facility on the other side of the Mississippi? John Carlson, the Des Moines Register’s conservative columnist, went to Clinton last week and found broad support for the plan.  

I’d like to hear from Bleeding Heartland readers who live in the area. Will Republicans score political points with this controversy, or will their efforts backfire in eastern Iowa counties that stand to gain jobs from Thomson’s expansion?

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Republican hypocrisy watch: terrorist prisoner edition

Congressional Republicans were fine with the Bush administration’s decision to prosecute the “20th 9/11 hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui in U.S. federal court.

Republicans didn’t hit the panic button when would-be “shoe bomber” Richard Reid was tried in federal court.

Numerous international terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda are already in U.S. prisons. In May, Fred Kaplan reported for Slate:

According to data provided by Traci L. Billingsley, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, federal facilities on American soil currently house 216 international terrorists and 139 domestic terrorists. Some of these miscreants have been locked up here since the early 1990s. None of them has escaped. At the most secure prisons, nobody has ever escaped, period.

Now that the Obama administration is planning to try some terrorism suspects in U.S. criminal courts and transfer others to U.S. prisons, GOP leaders want Americans to be very afraid. Iowa’s Republicans have jumped on the bandwagon.

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The week in Tom Harkin news

I’ve been meaning to write up a few stories about Senator Tom Harkin this week. As you may recall, he has been working on a compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would build the middle class by making it easier for workers to join a labor union. (Click here for background on the EFCA.)

On Monday Harkin told Bloomberg News that the “card check” provision may have to be dropped from the EFCA in order to get the bill through the Senate. “Card check” means that workers could form a union if a majority sign a document stating that they would like to join a union. Republicans and business groups are loudly complaining that this would destroy “secret ballot” elections on unions, ignoring the reality: “[t]he current process is not secret or democratic.”

Anyway, Harkin told Bloomberg that he hopes to find a compromise

that will gain “maybe the grudging support of labor and maybe the grudging support of some businesses.” […]

A softened version of the bill may attract support from more lawmakers, Harkin said. “Many do feel there is an imbalance” in current laws that favors business over labor, Harkin said.

“They may not be for the card-check, but they are for changing election process and procedures and shortening the period of time for elections” to form unions in a company.

The Bloomberg piece didn’t say anything about binding arbitration, which in my opinion is as important a part of EFCA as card check.

Also this week, Harkin told CNN that he supports appropriating funds to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention complex this year, as President Barack Obama has promised to do.

In other news, I read at La Vida Locavore that Harkin just introduced a bill to amend the Child Nutrition Act of 1996. Jill Richardson writes that Harkin’s bill

will update the rules on what’s allowed to be served or sold in schools. Right now, almost everything is fair game to sell in schools. You just can’t sell the worst junk in the cafeteria during lunch time. Outside of the cafeteria, anything goes. In the cafeteria when it’s not time for lunch, anything goes.

Harkin’s commitment to improving the health and nutrition of American children continually impresses me (see here, here and here).

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