Editorial: It makes sense for Thomson to house Gitmo prisoners
Fear of international terrorists takes “not in my backyard” to a whole new level.
We presume that’s why Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan, normally a rational, deliberative lawmaker, went ballistic over news the Obama administration wants to put terrorism suspects at a nearly vacant prison at Thomson when the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is closed.
We can’t say in good conscience we enthusiastically support the plan. Who would be happy about hanging up the welcome flag to the likes of al-Qaida?
However, we know the necessity of moving the prisoners from Gitmo. We know the political reality facing the president, who promised he would close the facility by the end of the year.
And we know the Thomson Correctional Center is, at present, a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.
Thomson cost $140 million to build eight years ago. It’s a maximum-security prison with the capacity to house 1,600 inmates. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the state couldn’t afford to keep Thomson open, so most of the facility remains empty. About 150 inmates live there today, and they are minimum security.
That makes Thomson, far and away, the most expensive housing in Carroll County — roughly a million bucks a prisoner.
There is a better use of the facility. Federal officials were exploring the possibilities in a visit Monday. Agencies involved in an afternoon tour included the Bureau of Prisons, Homeland Security and the departments of Defense and Justice. If the federal government buys the prison from the state, the top priority would be turning it into a supermax-style prison to hold Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Gitmo still houses 215 detainees, while 565 have been released or transferred. The federal government can handle security risks. An Obama administration official said no prisoner has ever escaped from the nation’s only other supermax facility at Florence, Colo.
Despite Rep. Manzullo’s doomsday scenario — that terrorism suspects might “one day be released into our communities” — the Obama official said the United States would never approve the release of Guantanamo detainees into the general population.
Manzullo, meanwhile, persists in the notion Gitmo should not be closed. “Gitmo is set up to house these dangerous terrorists, and they should stay there,” he said.
We happen to agree with Obama that Gitmo should be closed. The U.S. should wipe the slate clean and stop giving terrorists material for their recruitment videos. Gitmo was the site of inhumane treatment of prisoners, raising serious questions around the world about respect for this nation’s laws and international standards of war prisoner treatment.
Whether Gitmo should be closed is not the question, however.
These detainees will need to go somewhere at the end of the year, and opposing them being sent to our region — not somebody else’s — seems the height of NIMBY.
We feel confident the federal government can turn Thomson into an appropriate facility and can keep surrounding residents safe. Consider this: Five of the 10 high-profile Guantanamo detainees will face trial at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Center attack. The detainees are suspected of having a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
If New York can take a leap of faith and risk having these suspects tried in their city, certainly we here in northern Illinois can risk housing detainees in a supermax prison.
Because of the potential creation of thousands of jobs, Gov. Pat Quinn has called a federal takeover of Thomson an economic opportunity.
We wouldn’t go that far, but we do see the wisdom in closing Gitmo and the economic necessity in making sure a $140 million investment by taxpayers isn’t wasted.
Rockford Register Star