WASHINGTON - Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday praised President Barack Obama for heeding the senator's advice to bypass the Charleston naval brig and transfer terror suspects instead to an Illinois prison from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Graham said he spoke with Obama recently and reiterated his strong opposition to moving the Guantanamo detainees to the medium-security brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston.
"I spoke to the president about Charleston a couple weeks ago," Graham told McClatchy. "He listened intently as I said I thought Charleston is not an appropriate site for long-term detention. I made my best case. I appreciate the president hearing what I had to say."
The Charleston brig had been at the top of a Pentagon list of potential destinations for some of the 216 detainees at the Guantanamo prison, which Obama pledged to close in an executive order two days after taking office in January.
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Graham broke with fellow Republican Sen. Jim DeMint and other GOP lawmakers from South Carolina. They criticized Obama's decision to have the federal government buy the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois and move as many as 100 detainees there from Guantanamo.
"This unnecessary decision to bring known terrorists away from a secure facility off our shores and into American neighborhoods is appalling," DeMint said. "The president's decision may please some European elites, but it doesn't make American families any safer."
Rep. Henry Brown, a Hanahan Republican whose congressional district includes the Charleston military facility, also assailed the move.
"The president's decision came despite clear opposition from the American people and a lack of congressional oversight," Brown said.
Raising the prospect of future terror suspects being held in Charleston, Brown added: "I am fearful that the president will continue to shift detainees to other locations without warning."
Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminster Republican running for governor, declined to credit Obama for bypassing the Lowcountry as a destination for the terror suspects.
"Whether they are transferred to Illinois or Colorado or Charleston, we should all be equally concerned for the safety and security of our fellow citizens," Barrett said.
Rep. Joe Wilson, a Springdale Republican, said he was "very pleased for South Carolina and Charleston and the Lowcountry," but nevertheless unhappy with Obama's decision.
"My concern is for any American people anywhere, anytime," Wilson said. "Every American's life is very important to me."
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, accused House Republicans, who in May introduced the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, of having whipped up fears over the transfer of Guantanamo detainees.
"There were people in South Carolina who were attempting to incite people over this issue in a partisan way," Clyburn said.
Clyburn said he never feared that the detainees would be transferred to Charleston because communities in Michigan, Montana and Illinois had expressed the willingness to accept them because housing them would bring jobs.
"Why would the (Obama) administration reject all of that and go into South Carolina to a facility that is really inadequate?" Clyburn said. "I never thought it would happen."
Graham said the Illinois prison was a good choice because of its rural location 150 miles west of Chicago.
"I think the Illinois site can securely house these prisoners," Graham said. "I'm convinced they can be securely housed on U.S. soil. They're not 10 feet tall. We can, as a nation, have a jail that works."
Graham said he was more concerned by Obama's decision, disclosed last month by Attorney General Eric Holder, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in federal court in New York, and not before military commissions.
"Finding a secure location is one of the easiest things to do," Graham said. "The disposition of these detainees' cases is as important to me as where you confine them. The idea of bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators to trial in civilian court criminalizes the war on terror. It is a bad decision."