The Navy's brig in Hanahan has evolved into one of the most secretive and important installations in the government's anti-terrorism effort, housing high-profile "enemy combatants" while aggressively fending off scrutiny.

Commissioned in 1989, the Charleston Naval Consolidated Brig sits at the southern end of the Naval Weapons Station. It has 400 cells but typically holds fewer than 300 inmates from all branches of the military.

The brig is the only one on U.S. soil to hold enemy combatants for extended periods.

The brig's mission began to change in June 2002 when Jose Padilla, now being tried on conspiracy charges in Miami, was spirited there under heavy guard. The Bush administration designated Padilla an enemy combatant and said he could be held incommunicado without the usual protections accorded criminal suspects.

Two other designated enemy combatants arrived in 2004, Yaser Hamdi, who was found with Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan, and Ali Saleh al-Marri, who the government contends was a sleeper al-Qaida agent.

Al-Marri is the only enemy combatant now in the brig. Hamdi was flown back to Saudi Arabia after the Supreme Court said the president doesn't have "a blank check" to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely. Padilla was transferred to Miami and charged with conspiracy shortly before the Supreme Court was to rule in his case.

The brig has a stellar reputation in corrections circles and is one of the few facilities to receive four consecutive perfect scores from auditors from the American Correctional Association.

But officials have taken great pains to dodge public scrutiny of its incarceration of terrorism suspects, developing elaborate plans that included destroying "critical info," scrubbing public Web sites and warning brig staff about the temptations of "high-priced offers from news agencies," according to a Navy report obtained earlier this year by The Post and Courier. So far, no reporters have been allowed into the Hanahan brig.

The document also described how brig officials created an expensive prison-within-a-prison, in part to prevent regular inmates from retaliating against the detainees. The report says an entire wing was set aside for one detainee and quoted a brig official as saying that "the enemy combatant mission is a fluid task without full definition," and that "this mission costs money."