WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday praised President Barack Obama for heeding his advice to bypass the naval brig in Charleston, S.C., and transfer terror suspects instead to an Illinois prison from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Graham, a South Carolina Republican, 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.
Graham broke with fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint and other GOP lawmakers who 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."
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, accused Republicans — who in May introduced the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act — of having whipped up fears over the transfer of Guantanamo detainees.
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 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 is 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 ten 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 the 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 Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators to trial in civilian court criminalizes the war on terror. It is a bad decision."