Thomson Will Be for ‘Limited’ Number of Detainees Awaiting Military Commissions

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 1:42 pm

On a conference call just now, senior administration officials provided some details about their plan for detaining Guantanamo detainees at Illinois’ Thomson Correction Center. The facility will be for a “limited number” of detainees, a senior administration official told reporters, for those “who would face trial [in] military commissions.” A different official clarified that “I think the plan would be to hold the military commissions at Thomson.”

But Thomson will not be a way station for out-processing Guantanamo detainees back to their home countries. Nor will it house detainees who will face prosecutions in federal court — those detainees will be transferred the jurisdictions trying them. Finally, a senior administration official said that while “notionally” it could house detainees for indefinite or preventive detention — the so-called “Fifth Category” of detainees who the administration contends cannot be tried in any forum nor responsibly released — the administration has not yet identified any detainees who fall into that category. Accordingly, neither official told reporters how many detainees at Guantanamo it had identified for transfer to Thomson, saying the process of review remains ongoing.

The Thomson maximum-security prison, built in 2001, is “virtually empty,” the first official said, but inside the prison, non-terrorism detainees will be held in segregation from the former Guantanamo inmates. While the facility is up to the security standards of the Florence, Colo. Supermax prison — with “dual-sided electric stun fencing,” outer and inner towers with armed guards, networked cameras and more –  the Defense Department will add “extra perimeter security” to make it “the most secure facility in the nation.” Ex-Guantanamo detainees will be allowed to communicate with their lawyers, the International Committee of the Red Cross and law enforcement officials — that is, no friends, and no family.

Finally, the officials couldn’t give a time frame for when the transfers ought to occur — and, accordingly, when Guantanamo will be closed. That will require “some change in law, and some funding, obviously, from Congress.” The officials said they were working with Congress — and particularly the Illinois delegation — to secure that additional money and legal authority, though they did not specify precisely which legal changes were necessary and sufficient for the transfer.

A press conference at the White House on the Thomson transfer is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. EST.

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