Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a native of Qatar, was arrested in Peoria in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and accused of being a sleeper agent sent by al-Qaida to do its bloody bidding. He had attended terrorist training camps and met with alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who directed him to travel to the United States no later than Sept. 10, 2001.
Al-Marri spent nearly six years in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. after the Bush administration classified him as an enemy combatant. Earlier this year, he was indicted in federal court for materially supporting al-Qaida and was moved to a prison in Pekin. After pleading guilty, he got a sentence of more than eight years, which he is serving at the federal prison in Marion.
Have you heard about any hijackings in Charleston? Planes crashing into buildings in Pekin? Suicide bombings in Marion? Neither have we.
As with 34 other inmates doing time in Illinois on terrorism charges, al-Marri's presence has been a nonevent. By going totally unnoticed, they have shown there are no special risks from confining suspected terrorists in the Land of Lincoln.Give us a break. A super-maximum security prison, such as Thomson would become, is not what most of us associate with the word "neighborhood." The critics seem to forget that no one has ever escaped from a supermax. If having a terrorist imprisoned on our soil were an invitation for his confederates to slaughter innocent Chicagoans, it would surely have happened already.Let's not forget why Thomson is available. It was built by Illinois as a state-of-the-art, maximum security prison, but it has gone virtually unused because the state's leaders have bowed to political pressure. The state could save money by closing one or more of its expensive, obsolete prisons and transferring prisoners to Thomson.
But local unions and politicians have raised a mighty fuss about moving prison-related jobs out of their communities. So Illinois lawmakers have preserved the obsolete prisons so they could avoid political wrath.
Had they done the right thing for the state, Thomson would be unavailable for federal use because it would be operating as a state prison. But it's not, and no one sees a quick injection of spine on this issue. So Illinois should turn over the deed to Thomson. (And the federal government should pay a good price for it.)
We don't think the residents of Illinois will buy into the panic the opponents are trying to stoke. And while the change would surely bring economic benefits and jobs to a depressed corner of the state, the best reason for using Thomson for these inmates is that Guantanamo needs to be closed and they have to be locked up securely somewhere.
Who says crime doesn't pay? It looks like crime could revitalize entire communities throughout Illinois.