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A 'Gitmo North' to open in rural Illinois?

December 15, 2009 |  8:24 am

Guantanamo Bay prisoner

Maybe this is a new form of torture -- forcing terrorist suspects to trade the idyllic weather of Cuba for the harsh realities of winter in the heartland.

That's not the reason, of course, that the Obama administration is planning to move upward of 100 detainees from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to Illinois' little-used Thomson Correctional Center about 150 miles from Chicago.

First the feds have to buy the facility from the state, then turn it into a super-max prison. Oh, and they have to weather the complaints of Republicans such as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who dubbed the proposed new facility "Gitmo North" and said the administration has failed to explain how it will make the United States safer. "The American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress have already rejected bringing terrorists to U.S. soil for long-term detention, and current law prohibits it," McConnell said.

Others, like Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, running for the Senate, charge the move would put a big target on the state for jihadists.

But the White House insists that emptying Guantanamo, long an irritant in world opinion, will actually protect U.S. interests. In a statement issued last night, the administration said closing the facility that was first opened by President George W. Bush is "essential to protecting our national security and helping our troops by removing a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of Al Qaeda."

President Obama, who promised in his first week in office to close the facility within a year, is set to announce the policy later today.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Military police escort a detainee to his cell at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in 2002. Credit: Reuters