For almost ten years, a brand new, state of the art, maximum security prison located between Thomson and Savannah, Illinois has remained largely empty. The state of Illinois built the facility to replace one of its aging maximum security prisons. After its construction, the state lacked the resources to open and operate the facility.
Currently, only the 200-bed minimum-security unit is open. The 1600 cell maximum security prison remains empty. So instead of housing the state’s most dangerous criminals, the state heats and cools the building, opens and shuts the cell doors, and flushes the toilets once a week. In 2004, those activities cost the state $800,000 a year.
Before the Thompson Correctional Center was built, there was a spirited debate about whether or not the community wanted to house a maximum security prison. The area had just lost one of its major employers, the Savannah Armory. The promise of hundreds of jobs appealed to the local community. However, people from the surrounding communities like Galena, who depend on the tourism industry, were overwhelmingly opposed.
Now, the state of Illinois is ecstatic about the possibility of unloading their $143 million boondoggle to the federal government. The people of Thomson, who were promised hundreds of jobs when they built the facility years ago, are once again excited about the possibility of new jobs. However, there is a catch. Instead of housing criminals, the federal government wants to make a few hundred million dollars in improvements so that it can house suspected terrorists from Afghanistan, otherwise known as the Guantanamo detainees.
While using an already existing and empty state of the art facility does make some sense if the detainees are going to be moved from their current location in Guantanamo Bay, the real question is, why do they need to be moved in the first place?
Currently, these suspected terrorists are being housed at a detainment facility on a US naval base. So, while the federal government reassures local residents that the facility will be safe, it’s doubtful that any facility would be as secure as a military base that contains thousands of Marines, naval ships, and combat helicopters.
If Thomson is selected, the decision will create a political issue in Iowa and Illinois. Iowa Congressman Steve King has urged his colleague from eastern Iowa to stop the plan. King said, “Bruce Braley knows there is no rational or legal reason to bring the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to American soil. The bottom line really is that, if these terrorists are released, innocent people will die and some of them likely will be Americans.” Congressman Braley represents the congressional district right across the river from the proposed detainment center.
Not only is the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detainee center controversial because known terrorists will be held on US soil, but it could also create terrorist targets in America’s heartland. In the general vicinity of the Thompson Correctional Center is a nuclear power plant, the Rock Island Arsenal, and the Mississippi River eco-system. An attack on any of those targets, or the city of Chicago which is only 150 miles away, would be devastating.
“Congressional reaction will be a key factor in whether or not terrorist detainees are moved to the Thomson Correctional Center. I am asking Bruce Braley to break with the President and Nancy Pelosi and join me to keep the worst of the worst Al-Qaeda terrorists off of U.S. soil,” said Congressman King
President Obama and Democrats made Guantanamo Bay an issue in the last campaign, but they never said that these terrorist would end up being held in facilities in places like Thomson, Illinois. The core issue with Guantanamo Bay wasn’t its location, but how the detainees were treated. That is something which the President of the United States should be able to control regardless whether the detainees are housed in a naval base or a facility in rural Illinois.
In terms of our national security, it’s in America’s best interest to keep these terrorist in a facility which has proven to be capable of keeping them secure – Guantanamo Bay. While local officials and members of the Obama administration are touting how many jobs this will create, housing terrorists on American soil should not be an economic development issue.
There is no number of jobs worth weakening our national security.
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