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McCain sees Thomson as option

But where area prison rates still unclear

Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
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(AP file photo)
The maximum-security Thomson Correctional Center is still an option for housing detainees from the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, says Sen. John McCain.
Caption
(Michael Reynolds/EPA)
John McCain
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Dick Durbin

Sen. John McCain is suggesting Thomson prison as an option for placing detainees from the Guantanamo, Cuba, prison, his spokeswoman said Tuesday. But it's unclear whether he sees Thomson as the top site.

In a Sunday interview on CNN, the Arizona Republican spoke about growing American support for moving Guantanamo inmates to the mainland. He recently visited Guantanamo with President Obama's chief of staff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

In the interview, CNN's Candy Crowley asked McCain whether he was ready to take some of the detainees and put them in a super-maximum security prison in the United States.

"I have said that for the last 5 years, but we have to have a plan," McCain said, according to a transcript of the interview. "And unfortunately, for the last 4 years, there was no specific plan. There was resistance in Congress also. For example, a person you've had on this show a lot, Dick Durbin – Sen. Dick Durbin – said that there's a facility in Illinois that we can move them to."

McCain was referring to Thomson, which Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, once backed as the place for Guantanamo detainees until congressional objections proved too strong.

McCain said he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have been working with the Obama administration for years on the issue. "But they have been stuck because of various interests within the administration," he said.

McCain's spokeswoman, Rachael Dean, said in a short interview Tuesday that Thomson was an option the senator "put out there." Asked how serious McCain was about putting Guantanamo detainees at Thomson, Dean said she would seek more information.

Durbin said Guantanamo should be closed because it is a "source of embarrassment" where torture occurred many years ago.

"They [detainees] should be tried in the United States ... We have over 400 convicted terrorists in federal prisons across the United States, including Illinois," Durbin said in an interview Tuesday on Champaign radio station WDWS.

He noted that Thomson had been a "focal point" of discussions about bringing back detainees to the mainland. "Because of controversy, I said, 'All right, Thomson prison will not hold any detainees from Guantanamo.'"

Durbin's spokeswoman, Christina Mulka, said in an email that nothing should be surprising about McCain's comments because Durbin and the Obama administration identified Thomson 4 years ago as a potential site to house Guantanamo detainees.

"I don’t think mentioning the old plan while discussing the need for a new plan is surprising," she said in an email.

Last October, the federal government paid $165 million for the prison in Thomson, a Carroll County town along the Mississippi River.

The state built the 1,600-cell, maximum-security prison a decade ago, then decided it couldn't afford to run it. It had been looking for a buyer for years.

The prison is expected to bring 1,100 jobs, but it could be years before it opens. Officials say recent budget cuts could delay the facility's opening.

 

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