Enemy combatants at brig would pose unacceptable risk

In this Nov. 5, 2015, photo, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks about the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The suggestion that enemy military combatants, such as the Guantanamo detainees, be transferred to the Naval Brig Charleston is fraught with danger and the likelihood of a cascade of serious unintended consequences.

The citizenry of the Lowcountry should be rightly alarmed that such a decision, to move these enemy military combatants into the heart of our community, is even being considered.

This alarm has been rightly sounded by Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Mark Sanford.

You may recall that a lone gunman, with approved access to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., fatally shot 12 people and injured 3 others at the Naval Sea Systems Command in September 2013.

The Naval Brig, situated on the Naval Weapons Station Annex, also has immediate access to its perimeter via a variety of other commands both military and civilian, as well as any visitor who can obtain a pass.

The obvious reality is that there is no strategic buffer around the Naval Brig perimeter to prevent a plethora of evil scenarios that would surely be contrived in the minds of these enemy combatants and/or their allies.

Instead, the facility is surrounded by other vulnerable government activities such as the Navy Space and Warfare Command and moreover is in the proximity of schools, neighborhoods and various businesses.

A brief review of Naval Brig Charleston’s mission statement is very instructive. It lays out four basic missions, the first three of which reflect long-standing military correctional policy derived from the U.S. Code of Laws, Title 10, Chapter 48. They are: (1) “ensure the security, good order and discipline, and safety of the adjudged and pretrial prisoners; (2) retrain and restore the maximum number of personnel to honorable service; and (3) prepare prisoners for return to civilian life as productive citizens.”

Given this mission, and given the fact that military prisoners are by and large non-violent offenders by state and federal prison standards, and given the fact that the Naval Brig was designed and staffed specifically for this stated mission, then the greater Charleston community should have no cause for alarm that this facility exists in the heart of our community.

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The fourth mission, added on a few years back, “when directed by superior authority, detain enemy combatants in accordance with guidance from the President via the Secretary of Defense,” is a political policy statement and is not contained in the U.S. Code, Title 10, Chapter 48.

This mission was attempted in 2002 with lower threat type Islamic detainees. The multitude of shortcomings of this experiment is well documented including lawsuits generated by the detainees.

This greatly misguided idea to move these avowed terrorists into our community must be thwarted now.

The idea of intentionally creating a soft target for these radicals in our beloved Lowcountry should be vehemently repudiated.

John R. “Barney” Barnes flew 507 combat missions with the Navy Seawolves in Vietnam and served as head of Navy Corrections in Washington, D.C. He oversaw the Navy Correctional System and the construction and staffing of Naval Brig Charleston, and was the Pre-Commissioning Commanding Officer from 1989-91.

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