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December 15, 2009

Today, President Obama ordered the federal government to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in northwestern Illinois, and the new home for a “limited number” of detainees currently held at Guantánamo Bay.

This sounds like a good thing—we’ve been advocating for the closure of Guantánamo for years.

Unfortunately, the order comes with really bad news.

Reports indicate that Thomson will be the new home for detainees the government has no intention of releasing or bringing to trial. It’s the return of that “fifth category” of detainees President Obama described in his national security speech last May, those “who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.” The Obama administration—like the Bush administration—has maintained that it has the right to hold detainees without charge or trial under the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

It is estimated that as many as 75 detainees could potentially be part of this fifth category.

But as we pointed out last year, a policy of indefinite detention is unnecessary and unwise, and would give the president carte blanche to break the law—something we’ve all seen enough of from the past administration.

The process will likely next head to Capitol Hill as administration officials have said the president will need “some change in law, and some funding, obviously, from Congress.” What Congress and the President need to hear loud and clear—is that simply moving Guantanamo’s policies from Cuba to Illinois won’t solve the problem. Instead, it just puts indefinite detention without charge or trial onto American soil. The answer is to charge and try anyone against whom we have evidence of committing a crime, and resettle or repatriate everyone else.

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