The Obama Administration continues to struggle in its efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
President Obama has said that the government would not meet the January 22 deadline for shutting down Guantanamo, and officials told the New York Times that they are unlikely to be able to transfer the terror suspects to new prison facilities like Thomson Correctional Center until at least 2011. It could take 8 to 10 months to install the necessary new fencing, towers and other security upgrades at Thomson, a nearly vacant maximum-security prison in rural northwestern Illinois.
Money is another issue. The United States Bureau of Prisons lacks the estimated $150 million needed to buy the Thomson facility from Illinois. The House Appropriations Committee rebuffed the administration's attempt to add roughly $200 million for the project to the Fiscal Year 2010 spending bill.
In arguing for the transfer, the White House has emphasized the economic benefits of the Thomson site and the tight security there, including armed outer and perimeter towers and a fiber-optic surveillance network.
It's an issue that has broken down along partisan lines. Democrats say the U.S. prisons would be fully secure and that shutting down Guantanamo takes away a valuable recruiting tool for jihadists. A senior administration official called the acquisition of Thomson "an important step forward as we work to achieve our national security objectives."
Republicans like Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Illinois), whose district contains the prison, say their primary objection has never been the possibility of escape. Rather it is "that the vitriol now pointed toward Gitmo will transfer to the village of Thomson and this facility, creating a new magnet for terrorists' activity and contributing to their recruiting rhetoric," Manzullo recently wrote.
This is not a purely hypothetical concern. Manzullo and fellow lawmakers like Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) point to the case of Uthman Abdul Rahim, a Guantanamo detainee from Yemen who was captured in Afghanistan eight years ago. The United States claims he is an Al Qaeda fighter with links to two of the terrorists who bombed the USS Cole in October 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors. Uthman's family says he went to Afghanistan to teach the Koran and has no connection to terrorists.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Uthman's brother Arif expressed confidence that President Obama would close Guantanamo next year. If Obama fails to do this - or if Uthman and other detainees are sent to a prison in the United States - many families would consider it an even greater betrayal, Arif said.
"The families, their friends, their tribesmen will have more hatred for the United States," he warned. "And perhaps they will consider taking the same path as the extremists."