Sen. Lindsey Graham did not mince words in describing President Barack Obama’s proposal to shutter the prison in Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday, calling the plan “a joke” and saying it’s “gibberish.”
“The next president of the U.S. has an absolute mess on their hands,” he said at a press conference with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “This is not a plan to close Guantánamo Bay. This is a political exercise.”
Now we find ourselves months before an election with a proposal that is a joke. I want to take this proposal and have a hearing about it, because it’s gibberish.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The plan unveiled by the Pentagon on Tuesday, in an effort to fulfill one of Obama’s main 2008 campaign promises, includes transferring between 30 and 60 detainees to a detention facility in the United States later this year.
The Pentagon has been scouting domestic sites, including the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Hanahan, South Carolina, just five miles from North Charleston.
“I promise you not one person will go to Charleston, South Carolina,” Graham said.
The Pentagon also surveyed the Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the country’s highest-security prison, the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado.
“There was a time when Senator McCain and myself would have stood with the president to close this facility and open up a new one inside the United States that adheres to our values and recognizes we are at war. That time period has passed, and it’s unfortunate. The president could never pull the trigger,” Graham said.
Graham and McCain were among the earliest Republican supporters of closing the prison.
Graham said that in 2010 he met with Obama twice in the Oval Office, and the president told him to send him a plan. He said that he sent him a statute that would allow the closure of Guantanamo by allowing detainees to be transferred to the U.S. to be held indefinitely under “law of war” provisions.
The transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees into the United States is completely prohibited under the law. It is plain and simple language, yet the President continues to suggest that he will move forward anyway.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.
“I have yet to hear a response after drafting that legislation,” he said.
McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the press conference with an audible, heavy sigh.
“I’ve been waiting for seven and a half years for a plan in order for us to facilitate the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I’m still waiting,” McCain said. “Because this isn’t a plan.”
Graham, McCain and Ayotte criticized the lack of detail in Obama’s proposal about where the detainees would be moved and where the military would detain and interrogate detainees in the future.
While there has been widespread opposition to Obama’s plan, especially from Republicans, South Carolina’s delegation has responded with particular urgency, likely because of the possibility that detainees could be relocated to their state.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., took to social media to call on Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are campaigning in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s primary, to make clear their position on transferring detainees.
“The people of South Carolina have a right to know whether someone seeking the office of President wants to use South Carolina as a dumping ground for terrorists,” he said in a statement. “Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders need to make it unmistakably clear whether they support bringing terrorists to South Carolina, and if not here, where?”
Duncan also introduced a resolution on Tuesday to authorize a lawsuit against the Obama administration if it transfers detainees, supported by fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.
“It is clear that the President’s plan to move Guantanamo to domestic soil would break the law,” Scott said, thanking Duncan for his efforts “to ensure that Congress is using every tool at our disposal to prevent this reckless plan from moving forward.”
The senator, who visited the prison last year, has been vocal about his opposition to closing the prison.
“Why move from Guantanamo, an isolated base 500 miles from Havana, to somewhere within 5 miles of a dozen schools? It simply doesn’t make sense,” he asked Tuesday evening in an email to constituents.
Obama said his plan would save American taxpayers more than $300 million in the first 10 years after implementation and as much as $1.7 billion over two decades.