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Funding problems delay Obama’s Thomson prison plan

The Obama administration faces a number of hurdles in its effort to buy Illinois’ Thomson prison and use it to house suspected terrorists now at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Among them: agreeing on a sale price, renovating the facility and getting Congress to change U.S. law so that some detainees can be held on American soil even though they won’t face trial.

Then there’s the matter of paying for it.

Last week, President Obama directed Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to act “as expeditiously as possible” to acquire the mostly vacant prison in northwestern Illinois. But the White House has fallen short in its bid to secure speedy funding.

An administration official, who requested anonymity when discussing the ongoing process, said Wednesday that “informal conversations” with House Appropriations Committee staffers were held last week. The goal was to set aside roughly $200 million for the prison in the $636-billion military spending bill for fiscal 2010 that was approved last weekend, said a House official familiar with the discussion who also requested anonymity.

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But when appropriations staffers balked, the White House decided to change course and not rush. “Instead it was determined to pursue the funding through the more traditional appropriations process next year,” the administration official said.

During his first week in office, Obama ordered the closure of the Guantanamo detention center by Jan. 22, 2010. But White House officials long have acknowledged the deadline won’t be met.

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was not available for comment Wednesday, spokesman Ellis Brachman said. Obey supports closing Guantanamo, but in October he said the White House had “not thought through how to get there.”

One option for Obama is pushing for the money in a supplemental war spending bill.

kskiba@tribune.com

peter.nicholas@latimes.com


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