Brig resurfaces as Gitmo alternative Navy facility would house terrorism suspects

The Navy brig in Hanahan originally was built as a medium-security holding site for military prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or less.

Brad Nettles

The Navy brig here is once again being mentioned as a possible site to hold and put terror detainees on trial.

But the likelihood of seeing it happen soon remains ripe for debate, including by South Carolina lawmakers who say they have yet to see specifics on future dealings with detainees.

President Barack Obama this week rekindled his push to meet his first-term pledge to shut down the terror-suspect holding site at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo,” Obama said Thursday. “I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions.”

Media reports immediately refocused on the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston as a leading choice where some of the 166 detainees could go on trial.

To make the shift happen, however, Congress would first have to agree on moving prisoners to the U.S. mainland.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was among those raising concerns over what the administration envisions, including a specific plan on dealing with detainees in civilian or military courts.

“It's not about the location of the jail,” said Graham, an outspoken member of the Armed Services Committee.

He continued, “I don't mind if we try to find a place to move it into the United States. What I want is a legal system consistent with being at war. And the reason we haven't closed Guantanamo Bay is we don't have a plan to close it. And you need a plan.”

In the years since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Hanahan brig has regularly been mentioned as a possibility for holding detainees in the U.S. The last round of speculation dates to around March 2010.

The Navy originally built the brig, located at the southern end of the Naval Weapons Station, as a medium-security holding site for military prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or less. But after Sept. 11, its mission expanded when terror detainee Yaser esam Hamdi, an American citizen, was delivered there in 2002. He'd been captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Two other high-profile inmates soon followed, including “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, and Ali Saleh al-Marri, a Qatari arrested in Illinois as an alleged al-Qaida associate.

Members of the state's congressional delegation responded Friday with various statements.

“I am not aware of any discussions about detainees from Guantanamo Bay being moved to the Charleston Navy Brig,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose 6th Congressional District includes the brig footprint.

“We have heard these concerns before, and they have never materialized,” he added. “I choose not to get caught up in the hysteria of hypotheticals.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott said safety should be the top priority when it comes to the question of closing Guantanamo.

“Since I have not heard any evidence that transferring those prisoners to Hanahan or any other prison on U.S. soil will make Americans any safer, I fully believe that we should keep the Guantanamo facility open and operating as it is today,” he said.

First District U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford said the process still has a long way to go before anything of substance materializes. He also noted South Carolina already has a reputation for taking hazardous waste from other states. In this case, though, he said he is against the state “becoming the dumping ground” for terror detainees.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.