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Gitmo Detainees Coming to America; Next Steps Unclear

The U.S. said it would transfer some Guantanamo detainees to a nearly vacant maximum security prison in Illinois, part of the promise to close Guantanamo. The prisoners would be those who would face military tribunals, but how many would end up there is still unclear, as are other details.

The Obama administration announced today that it will transfer some Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. The transfer is part of the administration’s struggle to empty the detention facility at Guantanamo, which currently holds more than 200 detainees.

Major details, like the number of detainees to be transferred there, remain unclear. A letter (PDF) sent by administration officials to Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois referred only to a "limited number." Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said today that "fewer than 100" of the detainees "will be ultimately transferred out of Guantanamo."

In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, administration officials also refused to give a timeline for transferring the detainees, saying that the security at the facility, about 150 miles west of Chicago, needs to be enhanced first. "We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves by laying out that kind of specific date for you," said a senior administration official during the call. No point making the same mistake twice: The administration has missed a self-imposed deadline before.

The administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the detainees to be transferred to Illinois would include those facing trials in front of military commissions, which will be held at the prison. They said that detainees who are set to be transferred to third countries, meanwhile, will not be moved to Thomson first. Meanwhile, detainees set to face trial in civilian courts "will be transferred directly to that jurisdiction" — apparently a reference to the detainees set to be tried in Manhattan and perhaps Brooklyn.

Some of the detainees transferred to Thomson may never get a trial. The officials said the administration will need to convince Congress to pass legislation allowing so-called "untriable" detainees — those that may face indefinite detention — to be moved to the prison at Thomson. Under current law, detainees can be transferred to the United States only for the purposes of prosecution.

The officials added, however, that no specific cases fall into that category so far. Several administration officials have told ProPublica that as many as 90 detainees may be held indefinitely after Guantanamo closes. In September, a senior official said the number was closer to 60.

Unmentioned today was yet another problematic category of detainees: Those who have had their habeas cases granted by U.S. judges, but who remain in custody at Guantanamo. As you can see from our interactive chart, which tracks the 40 detainees who have had their habeas cases decided by U.S. courts, 10 detainees currently fall into that category, some of whom were ordered released over 14 months ago.

We asked the White House what it plans to do with those detainees whose habeas cases have been granted but are still waiting to be released. A spokeswoman there declined to comment.

Until then, we’ve updated our chart to include the latest developments in those habeas cases. As ProPublica has reported, the rulings of U.S. federal judges on those cases continue to shape the legal framework for detaining suspected terrorists.

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