As Conservatives Fear-Monger Over Gitmo Closure, Illinois Town Says It Would Welcome Detainees

jerryhebler2As part of the new administration’s efforts to shut down the “lawless enclave” at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, there is discussion of possibly moving detainees from the island prison to be incarcerated stateside (just like many other terrorism suspects). One possible site being considered to house these detainees is the mostly-empty Thomson Correctional Center in the rural town of Thomson, Illinois.

The right has exploited this possible move by fear-mongering to score political points. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) started circulating a letter among state officials telling President Obama, “If your Administration brings Al Qaeda terrorists to Illinois, our state and the Chicago Metropolitan Area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization.” Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) claimed that moving detainees to Thomson would make the city a “target for future terrorist activity.”

One group of people, however, that is not afraid of bringing detainees to Thomson is the residents of the city themselves. As the Chicago Tribune reports, a transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Thomson Correctional Center would be “greeted warmly” by the city’s residents, who would welcome the jobs created by such a move:

News that the federal government seems interested in transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Thomson Correctional Center was greeted warmly in this small, rural farm town along the Iowa border.

After holding out hope that the sprawling $145 million prison might improve the economic conditions in this remote area of the state, residents say any prisoners would be a welcomed sight.

It would help the businesses here, and God knows we could use that,” said Kay Lawton, 59, a Thomson resident. “It doesn’t matter to me who they bring here.”

“A murderer is a murderer no matter where he’s from,” [Thomson Village President Jerry] Hebeler said. “That’s the way I look at it.” […]

“As long as it’s safe and we’re protected, I’m comfortable with it,” Hebeler said. “Maybe this is something that will put us on the map.”

CNN’s Gary Tuchman traveled to Thomson and interviewed its residents about their feelings about a possible transfer of Guantanamo detainees. He concluded that “for economic reasons, people are very much in support” of the transfer. Watch it:

In opposing the transfer of detainees to Thomson, Kirk and Manzullo are putting themselves at odds not only with job-seeking residents, but also fellow conservatives. In a joint statement prepared by the Constitution Project, David Keene, founder of American Conservative Union, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and former representative and presidential candidate Bob Barr write, “We are confident that the government can preserve national security without resorting to sweeping and radical departures from an American constitutional tradition that has served us effectively for over two centuries. … The scare-mongering about these issues should stop.”


Despite the fact that Kirk is now attacking efforts to bring Guantanamo detainees stateside, he voted with a majority of the House of Representatives to do just that last month.

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