Omar Khadr may be sent to Illinois prison

Canadian Omar Khadr is expected to be one of up to 100 terrorism suspects transferred to a state prison in Illinois from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, CBC News has confirmed.
The Thomson Correctional Center is set to become the new home for a limited number of Guantanamo Bay detainees. ((M. Spencer Green/Associated Press))

Canadian Omar Khadr is expected to be one of up to 100 terrorism suspects transferred to a state prison in Illinois from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, CBC News has confirmed.

A source told CBC News that 23-year-old Khadr, accused of killing a U.S. army medic in Afghanistan, is slated to be among those transferred to Thomson Correctional Center, but it is unclear how soon this will happen.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said that so far they have not received any official confirmation from Washington that Khadr will be among the detainees moved to to the Illinois detention facility.

The White House said Tuesday the near-empty state prison will house both federal inmates and no more than 100 detainees from Guantanamo. No date for the transfer was provided.

U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the government to acquire Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill., a town near the Mississippi River about 240 kilometres from Chicago.

Military tribunals for potential detainees are expected to be held at the facility. Detainees the president determines must be held indefinitely but can't be tried may also be moved to the prison.

Toronto-born Khadr was captured by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was 15, and has been held at Guantanamo for seven years. The U.S. accuses him of throwing the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer.

Trial resumes next summer

Khadr's trial by military commission is expected to resume next July. It is unclear whether the Illinois prison will be ready to receive detainees by then. A source at the Pentagon told CBC News that the U.S. government will need to get money from Congress to buy the prison and upgrade it.

Canadian Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. medics in Afghanistan. ((Janet Hamlin/Pool/Associated Press))

Republicans condemned moving Guantanamo prisoners to the Illinois prison.

"Gitmo is not being closed, it’s being moved to northwest Illinois," said Republican Congressman Don Manzullo.

Reaction has been mixed in the town. Some residents are grateful for the thousands of jobs that could be created but others said they are concerned about the inmates.

Both Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and the two U.S. senators from Illinois supported the decision.

"This will be the most secure prison in America," Quinn said. "No one has ever escaped from a federal prison."

White House national security adviser James Jones said shifting detainees to Thomson would make the United States more secure and remove "a recruiting tool that Guantanamo Bay has come to symbolize" for terror organizations.

Obama promised after he became president that he would close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Acquiring the Thomson prison may not solve all the administration's problems related to Guantanamo, since the centre now holds more than 200 detainees. The administration could also face other legal issues and possible resistance from Congress.

The Thomson prison was built by Illinois in 2001 with the potential to house maximum-security inmates. Local officials hoped it would improve the local economy, but state budget problems have kept the 1,600-cell prison from ever fully opening.

At present, the prison houses about 200 minimum-security inmates. Illinois officials have said those inmates can easily be transferred to other state prisons.

With files from The Associated Press