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Sorting out the Guantanamo prisoner transfer plan
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/16/2009 7:34 PM | Updated: 11/16/2009 7:34 PM

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With President Barack Obama looking at a plan to move suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to a near-vacant western Illinois prison, the political rhetoric has grown incendiary.

Republicans have seized on the issue, saying Obama and Democrats who support him are putting Illinois at risk and even making it easier for terrorists to recruit other prisoners.

Democrats, like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield, have balked at the allegations, calling them fear mongering.

Here is a quick look at some questions being raised by the plan and the facts behind the answers:

Q. Would the Thomson Correctional Center become the new Gitmo?

A. Obama is trying to close Gitmo, in part, to improve America's image around the world. The prisoners in Gitmo are being moved out individually. Illinois' prison would have only a fraction of the more than 1,000 inmates the controversial Gitmo held at its peak. But it remains unclear exactly how many of the remaining 215 detainees would end up in Illinois. Durbin says it would be fewer than 100, but there is no clear guarantee on that.

Q. It does appear that Thomson could hold the most Gitmo detainees to be in one place after the Cuba facility is closed. Would it be safe?

A. Republicans argue that the prison or Chicago would be the target of terrorist attacks if the Gitmo detainees are moved there. No solid evidence exists to support that claim or refute it. Chicago's concentration of people and landmarks mean it could be considered a terrorist target regardless of Gitmo detainees locked up 150 miles to the west. Supporters of the plan point to the safe imprisonment of up to 300 inmates with terrorists ties, including about 35 in Illinois.

Federal authorities are promising to upgrade the maximum-security Thomson prison to 'supermax' status with additional safeguards to prevent escape and control the inmate population. It should be the most secure prison in the nation after the upgrades, proponents say.

Q. Would the suspected terrorists be able to recruit from the prison population?

A. No. Under the current plan, the Department of Defense would lease a section of the prison that would be operated completely separate from the main prison. The Gitmo detainees would not be able to mingle with or contact regular prisoners, Durbin said.

Q. Would the suspected terrorists be allowed visitors?

A. Under the current Department of Defense guidelines, no visits from family or friends are allowed. Visits from attorneys would be allowed.

Q. Could the terrorists eventually be released into Illinois if cleared of criminal charges?

A. Not under current law, which states that Gitmo detainees can't be released onto U.S. soil, the Obama administration said.

Q. Would the suspected terrorists face trial in Rockford or Chicago?

A. According to the Obama administration, the suspects would face trial where their alleged crimes occurred, not where they are in prison. So, if the crime is alleged to have occurred in New York or Los Angeles, they would face trial in those cities.