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Thomson Prison To Become Military Commissions Site

Senior Administration officials just held a conference call about the acquisition of the Thomson Corrections Center in Thomson, IL, to house a certain number of federal inmates, including detainees from Guantanamo. The big takeaway from this call, outside of officials describing it as an “important step forward” for America’s national security and the eventual closure of Guantanamo, was that Thomson would become the site for military commissions, much like the prison base at Guantanamo. Detainees facing criminal trials would be housed at or near the trial sites, not at Thomson. And detainees about to return to their home countries wouldn’t go to Thomson either.

What about those detainees who could be held under indefinite detention? While Administration officials asserted that they had the authority under the AUMF to hold such prisoners, they claimed to not have actually identified any Guantanamo prisoners who could not be tried or released, at least at this time.

So the prison, which would be strengthened with security measures by the Defense Department, and which would house federal non-terrorism prisoners in addition to former Guantanamo detainees – though not in a mixed population – is really just a new domestic military commissions site, basically.

There’s no timetable for when the security improvements would be added to Thomson, or when detainees would begin to be transferred there. Officials stressed that no detainees from Guantanamo would be released into the United States, as current law disallows it. This makes efforts to get other countries to accept detainees difficult.

The White House still needs an undisclosed amount of funding for Thomson to make this transfer complete.

UPDATE: Here’s the letter from Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, on the acquisition of the facility at Thomson.

UPDATE II: Glenn Greenwald calls Thomson Gitmo North, and says that all detainees at Thomson will either have military commissions or will be held indefinitely without trial. His evidence is compelling that there will be some level of indefinite detention at Thomson, and that the Administration will seek legal authority to indefinitely detain through an act of Congress.

So where would they go? The second senior administration official said that “there are no specific cases today that meet that standard that the President has signed off on.” They want Thomson to be a place for these individuals, but currently “it would be a violation of the law to transfer prisoners to Thomson for the purpose of anything other than prosecution” so the administration acknowledges they “will need some change of law… Ultimately the facility would allow for the detention of some number of detainees who the President outlined in the Archives speech as not being tryable either in federal courts or in military commissions.” And Thomson “would be a facility for such detention.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen