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Obama budget includes money to house Guantanamo detainees in U.S.

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
The budget calls for $172 million to buy and renovate the Thomson, Illinois, prison and $66 million to staff and equip it.
The budget calls for $172 million to buy and renovate the Thomson, Illinois, prison and $66 million to staff and equip it.
  • Obama asks for $230 million to buy, prepare Illinois prison for Guantanamo detainees
  • Lawmakers in both chambers vowed to block the funds, which could prevent detainee transfers
  • Republican: Obama should focus on helping Americans, not needs of extremists

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama is asking for more than $230 million in the 2011 budget to buy and prepare an idle Illinois prison to house terrorism suspects now detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Justice Department budget for 2011 unveiled Monday calls for about $172 million for the federal government to acquire and renovate the state-owned prison in Thomson, Illinois, and another $66 million to eventually staff and equip it.

The budget requires congressional approval, and several lawmakers in both the House and Senate have vowed to block the funds, potentially preventing the transfer of many of the 192 remaining Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil.

"Even though Americans are facing tremendous economic challenges, the administration has chosen to spend $237 million dollars in taxpayer money to provide free travel, room and board in Thomson, Illinois for some of the most dangerous Guantanamo detainees," said a statement Monday by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It is time for the president to focus on the security and economic needs of the American people, rather than on the needs of those dangerous extremists who seek to do us harm."

Even if the funds are approved by the start of the 2011 budget year in October 2010, Justice Department officials said Monday the transfer of any detainees was unlikely to start until several months later.

Video: Obama unveils budget
Video: McConnell on jobs, terror trials

In addition to the cost of the Illinois prison, the Justice Department budget seeks another $73 million dollars for the transfer, prosecution and incarceration of five Guantanamo Bay detainees currently slated to stand trial in criminal court for their alleged roles in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Justice Department officials told reporters that includes about $23 million for security, $15 million for transportation, $15 million for litigation, $7 million for detainee housing and another $12 million for related expenses.

Gary Grindler, the acting deputy attorney general, said the Justice Department is committed to a civilian trial for Khaled Sheik Mohammed and four others charged in the September 11, 2001, terrorism case. Grindler said no decision has been made on whether the trial would be moved from New York City.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also said Monday that the government was still examining whether to hold the trial in New York City or somewhere else.

Federal officials informed New York authorities that the cost of a long-running trial in New York City could approach $1 billion.

New York officials including Mayor Michael Bloomberg are increasingly opposed to conducting the trial in Manhattan due to the high cost and disruptions it would cause.

Julie Menin, chairwoman of a city community advisory agency, proposed four alternative locations for the trial within the Southern District of Manhattan: Governors Island, Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and the Bureau of Prisons jail complex at FCI Otisville.

The latter three are all in Orange County, New York, a county less than an hour away from New York City, county executive Edward Diana told CNN.

Diana opposes holding the trial in Orange County, and warned he would mount a legal challenge to try to stop it.

A West Point spokesman said last week that no one has officially requested a review of demands for such a trial, which would require in-depth study of legal and security concerns.