Monday, November 16, 2009

Could “THOMSON, Ill.” become one of the hotspot datelines on the planet?

To me, one of the great shames of Illinois government of the past decade is that we are the state with serious prison crowding issues that built a new maximum-security correctional facility – only to discover that we couldn’t afford to operate it.

We’re like the lottery winner who spends their one-time riches on a big mansion that they can’t afford to keep up, so it becomes decrepit. That makes our state government more buffoonish than anything that was ever done or said by Rod Blagojevich.

THAT IS THE situation with regards to the maximum-security prison located near Thomson, a town of just over 1,000 people in far northwestern Illinois. It is a town that never had much to draw attention to it, until it became the site of a prison that sits largely unused.

To me, anything that allows that new prison facility to be put to use is a good thing.

So it is because of that concept that I am inclined to look favorably on the political people who think that the inmates currently being held at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba ought to be moved to the facility in northwest Illinois.

I have long thought that the situation in Guantanamo was an embarrassment to the United States by giving our international enemies a legitimate issue that could be used against us, one that goes so far as to undermine our sense that we have a morally superior cause in the fight against terrorist activity.

REGARDLESS OF WHERE they are moved, the people being held at Guantanamo need to be moved from that facility where they are being held indefinitely without charges, to a situation where they would be in the criminal justice system of the United States.

The argument has always been, where to put them.

To me, moving them to Thomson, Ill., makes sense in that it puts them into a modern corrections facility in an isolated part of Illinois.

In short, a national embarrassment would be erased by moving the inmates to Illinois, which would erase a state government embarrassment.

NOW I CAN already envision the critics, since this issue has already become politicized. Democratic officials largely support the idea of moving the inmates to Thomson, in part because it would require a mass hiring of people to properly staff the corrections facility.

Those promises made a decade ago that all kinds of jobs would be created by a new prison in northwest Illinois would finally come true.

Republican officials, meanwhile, are largely speaking out against the issue. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., used the issue this past weekend to stir up rhetoric critical of Democrats and Obama.

His challengers in the Republican primary for Senate largely are in agreement with him. This may actually be something that has brought the sides together.

HONESTLY, I THINK their true objection is that this is an Obama-supported proposal. If George W. Bush had ever suggested the idea during his presidency, these same people likely would have raced to see who could endorse it most quickly.

Their rhetoric says they hate the idea because they don’t like Thomson’s proximity to Chicago and Rockford – both of which have federal courthouses for the U.S. District of Northern Illinois.

It would make sense that if inmates facing criminal charges related to international terrorism were to be put on trial in the federal court system, they’d likely be sent to Chicago.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald could wind up having to take on countless cases related to terrorism, which might cut into the amount of time his staff can spend seeking to prosecute Democratic Chicago political people.

BUT SERIOUSLY, THE GOP critics say they don’t like the idea of Chicago having these trials because it makes our city “a target.”

They sense that the kinds of people in the Middle East who pledge their allegiance to the memory of Osama bin Laden (I don’t know if he’s still alive, I find it hard to believe that a man who required kidney dialysis treatments could survive for too long while living on the lam) will seek revenge every time one of their cohorts goes on trial, and they will attack the city where those trials will be held.

Excuse me for not being overly concerned, largely because I have enough sense to realize Chicago already is a target for such activity. I don’t believe that this change in procedure would significantly change the amount of attention that the third largest U.S. city (and the largest in the Heartland) would get from people crazed enough to try detonating a “suitcase” bomb of nuclear material at the corner of State and Madison.

In fact, I find people who try to dredge up such rhetoric to dump on the idea to be guilty of little more than fear mongering, which makes me wonder if we should fear the GOP as much as we do the would-be terrorists.

NOT REALLY. I realize that most of the ideologues of the GOP are merely being foolish, not venal.

But this is one situation where we ought to put aside the partisan rhetoric and consider a solution that would resolve several problems. For as I wrote earlier, those inmates at Guantanamo are going to have to be put somewhere. Maintaining that status quo clearly is unacceptable.

As far as I am concerned, the fact that the Republican candidates for Senate and governor are so quick to try to use this as an issue makes me wonder if any of them are worth receiving our votes come Election Day.


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