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Terror Suspects Could Transfer Near Wisconsin Border

If the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay closes, nearly half the inmates could be on their way to a new, but barely used maximum security prison in northern Illinois.
/ Source: WTMJ-TV and JSOnline.com

If the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay closes, nearly half the inmates could be on their way to a new, but barely used maximum security prison in northern Illinois.

MILWAUKEE - If the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay closes, nearly half the inmates could be on their way to a new, but barely used maximum security prison in northern Illinois.

Thomson Correctional Center is just 50 miles south of the Wisconsin border and 160 miles from Milwaukee. It could be used to hold as many as 100 Gitmo transfers.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) believes that invites an attack.

"I'm strongly against it," Sensenbrenner told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray. "We've kept them, for years, outside the United State and there's nothing wrong with that in my opinion. They ought to stay in Guantanamo."

There's been a long battle over the prison in Cuba and the rights of accused terrorists.

This new plan already worries some in Wisconsin.

"I don't want to take any chances," said Cedarburg resident Susie Rugg.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) insists there's nothing to fear.

"There's not been a single escape from a super max prison in the history of the United States," Durbin told reporters Sunday.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn wants to sell the state prison to the federal government. He claims filling empty cells could create more than 3,000 jobs.

Thomson, built in 2001, has 1,600 cells. Currently the facility, it houses about 200 minimum security inmates.

Calls and e-mails to the offices of Governor Jim Doyle, Senator Herb Kohl and Senator Russ Feingold were not returned Sunday.

Thomson Village President Jerry Hebeler said the move would generate desperately needed revenue for the town of about 500 residents near the Mississippi River.

"It's been sitting there for eight to nine years and our town is like a ghost town," Hebeler said of the prison, adding that a tavern recently closed and a planned housing development fell through. "Everybody moved or got different jobs."

Some lawmakers opposed the idea of terrorism suspects being brought to Illinois.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) circulated a letter among elected officials asking them to write to Obama opposing the plan, saying bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the state would make it a target for terrorist attacks.

Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Illinois), whose district includes Thomson, said he adamantly opposed the proposal and that he has consistently joined with a majority of his colleagues "in fighting efforts to bring these terrorists onto our shores ... where they could one day be released into our communities."

Guantanamo Bay "is set up to house these dangerous terrorists, and they should stay there," said Manzullo, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, said Kirk and other Republicans were "pandering to irrational fears" and that closing the Guantanamo Bay facility would strengthen national security because al-Qaida used it as a recruiting tool.

Thomson is not the only U.S. town that had hoped to lure Guantanamo detainees. Officials in Marion, Ill., Hardin, Mont., and Florence, Colo., also have said they would welcome the jobs that would be generated.

Federal officials are expected to visit the maximum security Thomson Correctional Center Monday.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)