WASHINGTON — Guantanamo Bay and the shootings at Emanuel AME Church were subjects of debate Thursday when Gov. Nikki Haley was on Capitol Hill to argue against relocating prisoners from the Cuban detention center to the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston.
Invited to testify before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, Haley said Charleston already had been through enough to be forced to share a ZIP code with suspected terrorists.
“Last summer the people of Charleston stared hate directly in the eye. We know true hate, and we know what real fear feels like,” Haley said in her opening remarks. “We don’t need to see it again, nor do we wish it on any other state. Keep the terrorists where they are, where they belong. Don’t bring them to my home.”
Haley did not take the bait when Democrats on the committee asked her to explain why it is more dangerous to house international terrorists than to house Dylann Roof, the alleged perpetrator of the deadly church shooting last year.
“Has it caused any security issues?” Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said to Haley.
“We won’t let it cause any security issues,” she replied. “Right now what I can tell you, it’s a constant reminder. It’s a constant reminder of what happened; we have to know that he’s there. No one wants him there. And right now they are going through the process of going with the death penalty.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., went further.
“The issue of bringing up Mother Emanuel and the fact that a terrorist is a terrorist is an issue (Democrats have) been raising for a very long time,” Richmond said. “It doesn’t matter the nationality of the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter their motivation. Terrorism is terrorism no matter the perpetrator or the victim, so when you look at these nine victims who were killed, we call it domestic terrorism, and the fact that you can hold a domestic terrorist means you have the ability to safely house a very dangerous person. You at least agree you have the ability to do that.”
Haley said that isn’t the point.
“I will never question our military and our officers. They are totally capable, and I don’t doubt them for a second their ability to do their job and do their job well,” she said. “I am talking about the environment you bring upon a state where you create that kind of fear. You send a chill factor into a state that you can’t put a cost on — that you can’t pin a reason on, that you can’t give a reason for. I know we have the best military in the world. My military will do whatever is takes to protect the people of South Carolina.”
Richmond also questioned whether Haley carries a “not in my backyard” mentality, and if she would still be invested in the issue if terrorists were transferred to another holding facility on the Obama administration’s target list.
“I will stand side by side with any governor who has to deal with this,” she said.
During her testimony, Haley sought to paint a stark picture of the possible repercussions for closing the detention center and moving prisoners to Charleston. Though the numerous residences and schools in the surrounding North Area have been cited as reasons not to bring detainees to the brig in Hanahan, Haley focused primarily on the larger economic consequences, with tourists no longer interested in visiting Charleston.
She went down a list of major international manufacturers who have brought their business to the state and might want to walk away if they feared their proximity to a detention site.
“Imagine my surprise,” Haley said, recalling how she learned last summer the White House had its eye on the Charleston brig. “Not only was it against federal law to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States, but why would anyone want to put terrorists in Charleston? Charleston, the city we call the Holy City. The city named the number one vacation spot in the nation four years in a row, in South Carolina, named the friendliest and most patriotic state in the union. It makes zero sense.”
Further, she said, South Carolina has received little to no communication from the Department of Defense about its plans and vision, creating anxiety that a decision affecting the state could come down at any minute.
“You could pay the state of South Carolina to host these terrorists, and we wouldn’t take them,” Haley cautioned, “for any amount of money.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.