By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 16, 2009 - The planned transfer of fewer than 100 detainees held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a little-used Illinois prison resolves "a national security issue of the highest order," National Security Advisor James L. Jones said here yesterday. The federal government plans to acquire Thomson Correctional Center, a 10-year-old maximum security prison in Thomson, Ill., a farming community about 150 miles west of Chicago, senior administration officials told reporters yesterday during a telephone background briefing.
President Barack Obama announced shortly after taking office that he would close the Guantanamo facility, citing its use as a terrorist recruiting tool.
Yesterday, Obama issued a memorandum directing Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to prepare the Thomson facility for secure housing of detainees currently held at Guantanamo who have been or will be designated for relocation.
A few hours after the background briefing, Jones, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin met with reporters outside the White House.
"By taking this action, we are removing from terrorist organizations around the world a recruiting tool that Guantanamo has come to symbolize in recruiting terrorists and potential terrorists -- warriors of the future that would harm our nation and seek to alter the way we live," Jones told reporters.
"And we think by taking this action," Jones added, "Guantanamo will soon be closed and that we know that this [Illinois] facility is going to be extremely secure."
U.S. military members, Jones said, will constitute the administration and security staff at Thomson, adding they "know how to do this in a very safe and secure way."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs yesterday told reporters that he concurred with Durbin's estimate that fewer than 100 Guantanamo detainees would be moved to the Thomson prison facility. Gibbs also noted that detainees transferred to Thomson would be under the administration and supervision of U.S. military personnel.
"Understand also the president has great confidence in the military of this country," Gibbs said. "Those are the people that operate Guantanamo Bay. Those are the people that would operate a facility at Thomson."
More than 200 detainees are being housed at the Guantanamo facility, which was opened shortly after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom.