COLUMBIA, S.C. — Some of South Carolina’s top Republicans are heralding a U.S. House vote Thursday to temporarily halt the transfer of more detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It’s no surprise the state’s Republicans support a measure that would bar the federal government from spending money on prisoner transfers. Along with locations in Colorado and Kansas, a Naval brig 15 miles from Charleston is among possible transfer sites already surveyed by a Defense Department team — a possibility that has elicited concerns from officials including Gov. Nikki Haley about security and economic development threats.
“Moving terrorists from a secure facility outside of the United States to Charleston or releasing them back onto the battlefield is a risk the people of South Carolina aren’t willing to take,” Haley said in a statement released Thursday. She thanked the state’s House Republicans for working with her “on what is a critical national security issue.”
This spring, Haley criticized the federal government for keeping her in the dark about plans calling for the possible transfer of detainees to South Carolina, telling a U.S. House panel she has heard no details about what she says could be detrimental for her state.
Last year, she and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wrote to Defense Secretary Ash Carter that they would not “be part of any illegal and ill-advised action by this Administration, especially when that action relates to importing terrorists into our states.” They threatened to sue if necessary.
Thursday’s bill — which the White House has already said that President Barack Obama will veto — also gives Republicans an election year issue in Democrats’ opposition to keeping open Guantanamo Bay, which currently houses about 60 detainees.
According to a report released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 122 of 693 detainees transferred out of the prison, or 17.6 percent, have returned to fighting. That’s four more than the 118 recorded as having re-engaged in militant activities in a report issued in March. The Obama administration has said transfers occur only after a rigorous review.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson was the first South Carolina Republican to co-sponsor the funding measure. On the House floor, he said Thursday the president has been “reckless” in moving detainees from the prison, in efforts to fulfill a campaign promise to close it.
U.S. Reps. Jeff Duncan and Trey Gowdy also called Obama’s plan “reckless,” with Gowdy calling on the president “to stop playing politics.” In a statement, Duncan also asked House leadership to bring to a vote his own resolution that would allow Congress to sue Obama if the White House tries to initiate transfers to U.S. soil.
In a statement to The Associated Press, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s lone congressional Democrat, pointed out that current law doesn’t allow transfers to the U.S. anyway and that the bill is congressional Republicans’ “deliberate and reckless attempt to be insulting to President Obama.”
The ban passed Thursday would last until the end of the calendar year, or until a bill authorizing defense funding is signed into law.