By Bob Schaper
ROCKFORD (WREX) -- A national debate on terrorism centers on a small town in Carroll County.
As the federal government looks into buying the Thomson Correctional Center, some argue it'll bring in desperately needed money. But others say moving terror suspects from Cuba to America's heartland creates a huge security risk.
On the surface it sounds like a win-win. The federal prison system is 37 percent over capacity, while the Thomson Correctional Center is nearly empty. Gov. Pat Quinn says it's worth at least $145 million.
"This is an economic opportunity that comes along probably once in a lifetime," Quinn says.
But here's the catch: If Uncle Sam buys the prison one section would be filled with detainees from the war on terror now held in Guantanamo Bay.
"These are really, really mean people whose job it is to kill people, driven by some savage religion," says U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-16.
Manzullo, who represents Thompson, says turning the prison into a federal facility is a great idea. But he wants garden-variety American felons, not the Taliban.
"The people of Thomson should not be held hostage by saying you don't get the prison unless you take these 215 terrorists," he says.
Manzullo agrees with Quinn that the risk of escape is low. But, he says, terrorists might attack the prison or civilian targets nearby.
"Thomson, Illinois, is by the Mississippi River and cornfields and it's easily accessible by automobile so that would create a significant security threat to the people not only of that area but of northern Illinois and indeed of the entire country," he says.
But Democratic candidate for governor Dan Hynes says he trusts the Obama Administration.
"They're going to guarantee that the people of Illinois are protected and that our national security is going to be paramount," he says.
We are in campaign season, so I talked to Manzullo's Democratic opponent, Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, who says he can't rule out the government's proposal because of the potential economic gains it could mean to Thomson. However, Gaulrapp says it is important to determine if the rewards outweigh the risks and community opinion, especially from families of soldiers killed in the war, needs to be heard.
Many of the Republican candidates for governor, including Andy McKenna, Dan Proft, Jim Ryan and Adam Andrzejewski agree with Manzullo that it's a dumb idea.
The bureau of prisons will be in Thompson Monday to kick the tires. Quinn says a decision from the federal government should come fairly soon.
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