Illinois town ‘ecstatic’ over plan to house Gitmo inmates

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 19:00 EDT
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Residents of a tiny Illinois town on Tuesday welcomed a controversial plan to transfer dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees to their near empty prison as a “wonderful, wonderful thing.”

“This is the best thing that could have happened to us,” said Julie Hansen, president of the Thomson chamber of commerce.

“I am ecstatic and I hope nothing happens that will keep this from happening in our community.”

The Thomson Correctional Center, located across the Mississippi River from Iowa, has remained virtually empty since it was opened eight years ago due to state budgetary constraints.

The rural county is desperate for the jobs the prison could bring. Hansen said people are excited about the possibility of new families moving into the town of 550 and new businesses opening up to serve the prison’s needs.

“I have a vision that this could be just a wonderful, wonderful thing for Carroll County,” Hansen told AFP.

The area has never recovered from the closure of a nearby army depot about 10 years ago, said Bill Gengenbach, editor of the Carroll County Review.

“The job market here is very slim,” he said, adding that most people have to leave the county to find work. “The economic impact that the prison might bring is what people are looking for.”

The White House announced plans to purchase the maximum security prison from the state of Illinois and use it to house federal prisoners and a limited number of Guantanamo inmates.

While there was quite a bit of opposition to the prison when it was first being built, that opposition has all but dried up in recent years, Gengenbach said.

People are much more worried about the economy than any potential threats from the prison.

“There is a little apprehension about being a potential target for terrorism but I don’t think people are really fearful,” he said.

The local sheriff also dismissed security concerns, noting that the nearby army installation had housed everything from nuclear weapons to prisoners of war.

“The detainee issue, I don’t think it’s really an issue,” Carroll County sheriff Jeff Doran told CNN. “Most people are in favor. I think most people are excited about it.”

The prison is currently protected by a 12-foot (four-meter) high exterior fence and a 15-foot (three-meter) interior fence, which includes a dual-sided electric stun barrier.

The Guantanamo detainees would be housed in a separate facility within the prison run by the Department of Defense and staffed by soldiers.

Illinois officials and lawmakers lobbied hard to bring the Guantanamo detainees to the state, brushing aside objections from many around the country that it would be folly to put them on American soil.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, has insisted the prisoners could be held safely and securely.

“The people who are spreading the fear are not listening to the folks that are in charge of security and in charge of intelligence,” Durbin told MSNBC.

“We have 340 convicted terrorists presently being held today in American prisons, being held safely. I am not concerned about this.”

The federal government’s purchase of the prison could create an estimated 2,340 to 3,250 direct and indirect jobs for the state. It was estimated that the unemployment rate in Carroll County, home to the prison, could be halved.

And the move should pump some 790 million dollars to 1.1 billion dollars into the local economy over four years, according to a preliminary administration analysis.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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