Congress to Obama: Gitmo closure plan not going anywhere anytime soon

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to the media before the CBS News Republican presidential debate at the Peace Center in Greenville on Feb. 13.

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress aren’t backing down a day after President Barack Obama issued a proposal to close Guantanamo Bay and relocate terror detainees to facilities in the United States that could include the Naval Consolidated Brig in Hanahan.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., stood beside fellow Republicans U.S. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire at a news conference Wednesday to discuss the next steps for responding to the report given to Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Those next steps include a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee — McCain is the chairman and Graham and Ayotte are members.

Another avenue is legal action should Obama attempt to shutter the detention center without the consent of Congress. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has solicited advice from an outside counsel on this matter, and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., has introduced a resolution authorizing a lawsuit in the event Obama acts unilaterally.

Ultimately, however, the three senators spent their half-hour news conference bashing the proposal as “gibberish,” “a wish list” and “a joke,” altogether suggesting congressional Republicans’ next step should be basically no step.

Graham said that from his perspective the window had come and gone for Congress to help Obama achieve his first-term campaign promise. He described how he and McCain went to Obama’s hometown of Chicago shortly after the 2008 election to discuss a path forward.

“There was a time when Sen. McCain and myself would have stood with the president, proposed this facility opened up inside the United States that adheres to our values and recognizes rule of war. That time period is past. And it’s unfortunate. The president could never pull the trigger,” Graham said.

The Obama administration’s new report on plans to close Gitmo did not include the names of the 13 U.S. facilities under consideration to host relocated prisoners. But as the only one of the three lawmakers at the press conference whose state has been surveyed to host detainees, Graham couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make one thing clear, that “not one person will go to Charleston, South Carolina,” he said.

South Carolina congressional lawmakers’ fierce protectionism should come as some relief to the citizens of Hanahan. In interviews on Tuesday, several Hanahan residents told The Post and Courier they feared Gitmo detainees in their community.

“I don’t like it at all,” said 65-year-old Bryan Turner, pointing out the area’s many churches and a nearby park. “Tell Obama to put them in his house. I’m sure he has plenty of space up there.”

Alysia Lucas, 54, said the possibility of a transfer to the brig served as a reminder of a 2007 traffic stop and search in Goose Creek that ended with two Egyptian college students being charged with transporting explosives. She feared the possibility of similar occurrences if suspected terrorists were brought to her city.

“I just remember how scary that was,” said Lucas, adding that she hoped U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would “hang tough.”

Scott, like Graham, has been an outspoken opponent of proposals to close Gitmo and relocate prisoners to South Carolina or anywhere in the country.

Not everyone felt so strongly, however.

Corey Rorie, 47, of Moncks Corner pointed out the strict security at the local brig.

“We employ hundreds if not thousands of people to do their job,” he said. “It should be no different than that facility out there in the ocean,” he said of the Cuba facility. “I think the problem is people don’t have faith in people to do their job ... Either you have a system that works or you don’t.”