Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday she will fight any plans to move Guantanamo Bay detainees to a Naval brig outside Charleston.
The U.S. Defense Department has said it is reviewing the brig in Hanahan and a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas as possible relocation sites. Other civilian sites also reportedly are under consideration for detainees, which include suspected terrorists.
116 Guantanamo Bay detention camp prisoners
Haley joined the state’s two Republican U.S. senators and a Republican congressman in opposing moving the detainees to a site just outside one of South Carolina’s biggest cities. Charleston is a top national tourist destination with a metropolitan-area population approaching 700,000.
“We are absolutely drawing a line that we are not going to allow any terrorists to come into South Carolina,” Haley, a Lexington Republican, told reporters Thursday. “We’re not going to allow that kind of threat. We’re not going to allow that kind of character to come in.”
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp since his 2008 election. His administration hopes to shut down the prison, opened in 2002 in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, before Obama leaves office next year.
But Obama has faced congressional opposition to bringing the detainees into the United States. Some lawmakers, including Haley and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, a Charleston Republican whose district includes the brig, have said the president’s push to close the detention camp violates a federal law meant to keep the detainees out of the country.
“This is not what’s in the best interest of this country,” said Haley.
This is a slap in the face to the people of South Carolina who have sacrificed so much for this country to turn around and say you’re going to put these terrorists in our backyard. Gov. Nikki Haley
Haley said she learned about the review of the Naval brig last week and spoke with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, about keeping the detainees out of South Carolina. She said Pentagon officials will come to Hanahan before the end of the month.
An exact date for that review visit is not set, said Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Defense Department spokesman. Ross also declined to discuss the specific criteria the Pentagon will use to make a decision on a new detention site.
Obama could issue an executive order to move the detainees. But Scott said he would fight bringing detainees to anywhere in the nation — even if it means withholding federal money.
“If you jeopardize American security, all bets are off the table,” Scott said Thursday.
We have to use anything within our arsenal to stop this from happening. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican who is running for the GOP nomination for president, said if detainees must be moved, they should go to a maximum-security location in a remote area.
“Charleston does not meet that criteria," he said in a statement.
Kansas lawmakers also issued statements opposing the relocation of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Fort Leavenworth.
Haley said she would reach out to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican.
“This is not about me wanting (detainees) to go to Kansas,” she said. “I don’t think they should even go there.”