Local residents, politicians divided on Gitmo move to Illinois





Despite the strenuous objections of local Republican lawmakers, some residents of Thomson, IL are hoping that the Obama administration will go through with rumored plans to move the Guantanamo detainees to the “vastly underutilized” Thomson Correctional Center. Up to 25% of the proposed federal supermax prison would be used to house terror suspects.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin says that up to 3k jobs would result from a federal takeover of the $145 million dollar prison, which has been largely empty since it was completed in 2001. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, up to 1,410 of those jobs would go to local residents. Governor Pat Quinn says that federalizing the prison would add up to up to $223 million a year to the local economy, and halve the 10.5% local unemployment rate.

Local Representative Mark Kirk, who is running to be the Republican candidate for the seat being vacated by lame duck Roland Burris, challenges those numbers, citing what he says was a super-secret Pentagon briefing and a report from the Bureau of Prisons. Representatives of the Bureau of Prisons announced a set of numbers last week double those Kirk attributes to them.

Many of the objections from local Republicans, however, are a little more inflammatory. Donald Manzullo, who represents the district containing Thomson in the House, told a local TV show last week that the Muslim detainees were “really, really mean people whose job it is to kill people, driven by some savage religion.” Manzullo non-apologized to anyone who was offended by misunderstanding his remarks as referring to Islam, as he was clearly referring to “a violent, anti-modernity version of Wahhabism.” Manzullo is less offended by violent atavism against suspected terrorists. He supports waterboarding in extreme cases, although he says he knows it doesn’t work.

Kirk, for his part, says that Illinois would become “ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization,” and the Sears Tower would be at risk.

Local residents are equally split, as they were back when the prison was built when some of the same concerns arose. Village President Jerry Hebeler, who suggested the plan to the Governor, is more concerned with the jobs than the potential safety problems: “When you hear the word ‘terrorist,’ even I flare up a bit, but after I heard what they had to say about security, I really feel like I can rest easy.” Previous Village President Merri Jo Pauley, who supports the plan, questions the ability of prisoners to escape unnoticed, saying “If a stranger comes around here, everyone knows within 20 minutes, believe me.” Pauley’s husband Donald does not support the plan, citing safety concerns.

Pam Brown, a Chamber of Commerce executive director in the region, thinks that the area has faced equally risky situations before. She points out that bombs were manufactured by the military at the nearby Savanna Army Depot until it closed. “Having a bomb go through your home town is something we grew used to. I’m not sure which would have posed the greatest danger — terrorists or bombs.”

Other locals simply don’t believe it’s going to happen. Colleen McGinnis, whose husband owns one of the businesses on Main Street which hasn’t yet closed, says “We’ve been told so many things. They say this could happen, but they said that before. When I see a prisoner walk in, I’ll believe.”

Other communities under consideration are located in Colorado, Montana and Michigan.