The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration intends to acquire a virtually unused Illinois state prison called the Thomson Correctional Center, about 150 miles west of Chicago, to house federal prisoners and some post-9/11 terrorist detainees currently housed at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo). The Administration essentially announced this decision in a letter dated today to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn detailing the decision and explaining the reasons behind it. The letter, signed by Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano, Attorney General Holder and Director of National Intelligence Blair, attempts to provide assurances that Gitmo detainees will not be released into American communities and that necessary security enhancements to the Thomson facility and the surrounding community will be provided.
Curiously, a paragraph in the letter states the following:
Current law effectively bars the release of the Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil, and the Federal Government has broad authority under current law to detain individuals during removal proceedings and pending the execution of final removal orders.
The references in this letter to removal proceedings, and detention authority under such proceedings, combined with DHS Secretary Napolitano's recent comments before the Senate Judiciary committee about possible Gitmo detainee deportation from the U.S. if acquitted in their civilian trials, clearly indicate the Administration considers the possibility of judicial orders requiring the release of Gitmo detainees brought into the US to be very real.
Notwithstanding the assurances touted in the letter to Governor Quinn, as we stated in a previous post, if any Gitmo detainees do ultimately find themselves in removal proceedings within the United States, they will be afforded a wide array of legal defense options, including generous appellate rights into the federal court system all the way to the Supreme Court. Those rights include issues related to detention. While the Executive Branch of the federal government enjoys significant authority in such proceedings, including detention authority, courts can override. Despite expressions of confidence, there are no certainties in this endeavor.