It currently houses only about 200 minimum-security prisoners.

Barack Obama, the US president, has vowed to shut Guantanamo Bay by January next year amid international outcry over the torture of inmates held at the facility since it opened in 2002.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who supports the planned use of the Thomson Correctional Centre, said it would hold "the only group of Guantanamo detainees" on US soil.

Obama has vowed to close down the Guantanamo centre by January 2010 [EPA]
Bringing the prisoners to the US, he told reporters, was necessary to both "make America safer" and to convince other countries to repatriate some of the 215 detainees still held at the military prison camp.

Durbin insisted that the prisoners could be "safely and securely" held in whichever facility wins the contract and dismissed those who he said were "sowing the seeds of fear" in order to win political points.

"No one has ever escaped from one of these facilities," Durbin said, noting that the US prison system currently holds "some of the most dangerous people you could imagine."

Durbin said preliminary estimates show more than 3,000 jobs would be created, potentially injecting more than $1bn into the local economy over the first four years of operation.

"This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good-paying jobs and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois," Durbin, the US Senate's second-ranking Democrat, said in a statement.

Obama administration officials have been searching for a facility to hold foreign terror suspects and they have considered as possible sites Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and a facility in Standish, Michigan.

The White House declined comment on the Thomson facility, with an aide saying no decision has been made and that multiple options are under consideration.