Detainees could end up in South Carolina

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 22, 2009 

WASHINGTON - President Obama's decrees Thursday on the detention and interrogation of accused terrorists increase the likelihood that some detainees now held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will be moved to South Carolina in a year or less.

On his second full day in office, Obama directed that the controversial Guantanamo detention facility be closed "no later than one year from the date of the (executive) order."

Senior Pentagon sources in November identified the Naval Consolidated Brig in North Charleston as a possible home for detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay, along with Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and Camp Pendleton in California.

"Transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. soil will endanger American lives," Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican, said of Obama's order to shut down the military prison. "If the new administration tries to move these known terrorists to South Carolina, they should be ready for a fight."

Not all of the 245 or so detainees who remain at Guantanamo, in fact, are "known terrorists." The United States hasn't disclosed its evidence against many of them for fear of compromising intelligence sources or of revealing intelligence-gathering methods.

Some of the detainees would likely be returned to their countries of birth or residence, while others might be released. Obama ordered a review of each detainee's status and case background to determine the appropriate action.

Rep. Henry Brown, whose 1st Congressional District includes the North Charleston naval brig, gave a more tempered response to Obama's decree.

"It is essential that these individuals - some of the most dangerous terrorists captured during the war on terror - only be moved after a full evaluation of all available and appropriate locations," Brown said.

The Hanahan Republican added that his "first duty is to the people of South Carolina and the 1st District." He said he "must ensure that these extremely dangerous individuals don't present an unnecessary threat to the Lowcountry."

Obama set up a task force led by the U.S. attorney general to review all detention policies and recommend other changes.

"The review shall identify and consider legal, logistical and security issues relating to the potential transfer of individuals currently detained at Guantanamo to facilities within the United States," Obama's executive order said.

The order added that "the review participants shall work with Congress on any legislation that may be appropriate."

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, dismissed as media speculation claims that some of the Guantanamo detainees might end up in South Carolina.

"No one in the Obama administration -- and no one from Charleston, for that matter - has contacted me regarding the future of the detainees," Clyburn said.

Clyburn cheered Obama's executive orders closing the Guantanamo prison, effectively banning torture in interrogations and shutting the CIA's network of secret jails.

"I applaud President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo," Clyburn said. "The facility has become synonymous with things that do not reflect American ideals or the policies of our new commander-in-chief."

Accompanying newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the State Department headquarters in Washington, Obama told applauding diplomatic staffers:

"Our actions in defense of liberty will be as just as our cause, and we the people will uphold our fundamental values as much as we protect our security."

In a separate presidential memorandum Thursday, Obama instructed the attorney general and the secretaries of defense, state and homeland security to review the case of Ali al-Marri, an accused al Qaeda sleeper agent who has been held in isolation for more than 5 ½ years at the North Charleston brig.

John Radsan, who served as a CIA deputy counsel under President George W. Bush, said Obama's actions appeared to be too radical of an answer to Bush's controversial detention and interrogation policies.

"Sure, the Bush program needed more checks and balances," said Radsan, now director of the National Security Forum at the William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota. "Bush went too far to the dark side. Now it seems Obama is going too far the other way."

Obama's sweeping executive orders followed his decision Tuesday to suspend for 120 days the terror trials underway at Guantanamo Bay.

Taken together, Obama's steps - which he had pledged to take during his White House campaign - undo much of the handiwork of Sen. Lindsey Graham.

It was Graham and Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee defeated by Obama in the Nov. 4 election, who crafted much of the 2006 Military Commissions Act.

That law set up the current system of trying accused terrorists, after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional military tribunals that Bush had created without consulting Congress.

Graham responded to Obama's orders in a joint statement with McCain, a close friend with whom Graham often campaigned during the White House race.

"We support President Obama's decision to close the prison at Guantanamo, reaffirm America's adherence to the Geneva Conventions and begin a process that will, we hope, lead to the resolution of all cases of Guantanamo detainees," the two senators said.

Saying "numerous difficult issues remain," Graham and McCain said some Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for release, but no foreign country is willing to accept them.

Other detainees "have been deemed too dangerous to release, but the sensitive nature of the evidence makes prosecution difficult," the senators said.

Graham and McCain criticized Obama's decision to suspend operation of the military commissions that they helped to establish.

"Also unresolved is the type of judicial process that would replace the military commissions," they said. "We believe the military commissions should have been allowed to continue their work."

Rep. Joe Wilson, a Lexington Republican, gave a more direct and critical response.

"The American people deserve to know where the (Obama) administration plans to house the terrorists currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, what rights (it) intends to afford them and what impact (the decision) will have on the safety of American families," Wilson said.

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