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Report: Gitmo transfer facing new delay

Dec. 22, 2009 at 10:12 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Lawmakers have refused a White House bid for money to buy an Illinois prison where Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees would be moved, The New York Times says.

That, in turn, will delay the transfer of the detainees to the prison in rural Thomson, Ill., until at least 2011, the Times reports in its Wednesday edition.

President Barack Obama, who said in January he hoped to close Guantanamo within a year, concedes he won't make that deadline. But the president told aides last week to move "as expeditiously as possible" to acquire Thomson Correctional Center, the nearly vacant maximum-security prison, and make necessary security upgrades for it to house the detainees.

Officials told the Times this week such changes, including new fencing, towers and cameras, would take eight to 10 months and could not start until the federal government buys the prison from the state of Illinois.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the prison, which would cost an estimated $150 million, the Times said.

Several weeks ago, the newspaper reported, the administration had asked the House Appropriations Committee about adding $200 million for the project to defense spending for fiscal 2010. Democratic leaders refused.

The White House likely will have no other opportunity to seek the funds until at least March or April, when Congress reviews supplemental appropriations for the Afghanistan war. And administration officials say Thomson funding would more likely be part of appropriations measures for fiscal 2011, which would not be taken up until late 2010.

Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said Obama still plans to close Guantanamo.

"We will continue to work with Congress to ensure that we secure the necessary funds to purchase and upgrade the Thomson prison, which will operate at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers, next year," LaBolt told the Times.

The transfer plan has drawn opposition from Republicans, who say detaining terrorism suspects in the United States would pose security risks. Some moderate Democrats also oppose the plan.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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