S. Carolina pols move to keep Guantanamo detainees out

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 6, 2009 

WASHINGTON — South Carolina politicians are moving to try to block any transfer of suspected terrorists from the Guantanamo detention center ordered closed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Navy brig at Charleston, S.C.

On Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., became a sponsor of a bill that would prohibit the use of federal funds for such a transfer, while in Columbia, S.C., the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a measure asking President Obama and Congress not to move Guantanamo detainees to the state.

"Guantanamo Bay is home to the most hardened and battle-tested terrorists in the world," DeMint said in announcing the legislation, which he's co-sponoring with Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

The Naval Consolidated Brig in North Charleston, S.C., has emerged as a leading candidate to house some or all of the 245 alleged terrorists at Guantanamo, along with the Army’s Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in California.

"It is dangerous to bring these terrorists onto U.S. soil and make targets out of our own communities," DeMint said. "Guantanamo Bay may cause the Obama administration heartburn, but shutting it down puts American lives in danger."

Republican Rep. Henry Brown of South Carolina, whose district includes the Charleston area, last month introduced similar legislation in the House, prohibiting federal funding of relocating Guantanamo prisoners to the state.

Obama signed an executive order last month requiring the Guantanamo detention facility to be closed within a year, saying he wanted to end the "false choice between our safety and our ideals."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who helped write the 2006 law establishing procedures for trying the Guantanamo detainees, says conditions there have improved in recent years, but the facility should be closed because it has harmed the United States’ image abroad.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, opposes moving Guantanamo detainees to South Carolina, but is not a cosponsor the DeMint-Inhofe bill. Aides said he was reviewing it.

Fifty percent of Americans oppose Obama's move to close Guantanamo, while 44 percent support it, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Merrill crafted the resolution that the state House passed unanimously. It now goes to the South Carolina Senate.

The measure urges "both the president of the United States and Congress … to refrain from locating or relocating in South Carolina individuals whom the federal government has classified as 'enemy combatants' or other similar term used to describe a foreign national who is suspected of committing, conspiring to commit or attempting to commit an act of terror on United States soil or abroad."

Merrill, a Charleston Republican, said transferring Guantanamo detainees to the Consolidated Naval Brig would endanger his constituents.

"I don’t see how in any way, shape or form our country or our community is going to be safer by bringing in known terrorists," Merrill said. "I think it borders on idiocy."

The state House Judiciary Committee is considering a separate Merrill measure that would compel South Carolina utilities to cut off electricity to the Navy prison if alleged terrorists are housed there.

The brig has held an accused al Qaeda sleeper agent , Ali al Marri, since 2003. The Supreme Court agreed last year to hear al Marri's challenge to his detention, and Obama last month asked the high court to delay its proceedings so his administration could review the case.

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