Obama Plans To Hold Detainees Indefinitely At Thomson Facility

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

The Obama administration plans to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely at the newly-assigned facility in Thomson, Illinois, senior administration officials told reporters on Tuesday. In addition, President Obama will ask Congress for the authority to transfer those people it will hold indefinitely without charges to the domestic location.

The White House ordered the federal government on Tuesday to acquire the prison facility that currently exists at Thomson for the purpose of housing federal inmates as well as a "limited number" of terrorist detainees. The facility will be converted first into a "supermax" -- safer than the one that currently exists in Florence, Colorado.

Among the detainees destined for the site are those the president has described as untriable (either in criminal or military court) and unreleasable to a foreign country.

"Notionally, the facility would obviously allow for the detention of some number of detainees who the president outlined in the [National] Archive speech as not being triable in federal courts or military commissions," said a senior administration official, during a conference call organized by the White House. "[Thomson] would be a facility for such detention."

There was some discussion on the call, as to whether the president has the legal authority to bring detainees on U.S. soil. The senior administration official acknowledged that "it would be a violation of the law to transfer prisoners to Thomson for the purpose of anything other than prosecution," and, as such they would have to secure "some change of law." On the issue of housing those detainees indefinitely, both spokesman Robert Gibbs and a senior administration official said that the president currently has the authority to do so under the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in 2001.

The two administration officials on the call did not go into detail about when or how many detainees would be transferred from Gitmo to the facility at Thomson. But they did broadly outline the process by which transfers would take place.

"Those who will face trial in article three or federal courts will be transferred directly to that jurisdiction," said one of the senior administration officials. "Those transferred to the custody of friends and allies overseas will not be transferred to the United States and then further on, but rather directly from Gitmo."

The official stressed that the president "has no intention of releasing any detainees into the United States." The detainees at Thomson, he added, will not be allowed visits from family or friends, but only from attorneys, law enforcement officials and the Red Cross. They will be housed separately from other inmates and a military commission will be set up on site to try certain detainees there.

Earlier in the day, the Secretaries of State, Homeland Security and Defense, the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General wrote to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announcing the administration's decision to use Thomson. The letter can be read here.