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SC lawmakers file bill to protect Navy Brig from terror suspects if Guantanamo shuts down

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Terror detainees? Not in our backyard (copy) (copy)

The Navy Brig at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station. File

HANAHAN — Two South Carolina members of Congress have introduced legislation to prevent terror detainees from being shipped to the U.S. mainland if the prison site at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is shut down.

The bill is designed to eliminate the Naval Consolidated Brig at Joint Base Charleston from becoming a holding site.

The measure was filed after the Biden administration this month said it would seek to close the prison following a review process, resuming a project begun under the Obama administration.

"Any plan to transfer these prisoners to the U.S., such as the Obama-era proposal to transfer the prisoners to the Charleston Brig, is unacceptable," said co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Charleston. "These terrorists are the worst of the worst and should not be held on American soil."

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, said it "is commonsense policy that we keep these terrorists far away from American citizens and out of our judicial system."

He added, "This misguided, dangerous policy move could put my fellow South Carolinians and our entire nation at serious risk. Simply put, no state should become a dumping ground for terrorists." 

The Navy brig has long been mentioned as a possible holding site for the detainees if Gitmo were to close. It already has housed other figures nabbed in the war on terror, but that was many years ago.

The detainee question flared recently when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it was the “intention” of the Biden administration to close the detention facility, something President Barack Obama pledged to do within a year and shortly after he took office in January 2009.

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He ran into stiff political resistance.

Psaki gave no timeline, telling reporters that the formal review would be “robust” and would require the participation of officials from the Department of Defense, the Justice Department and other agencies who have not yet been appointed under the new administration.

The U.S. opened the detention center in January 2002 to hold people suspected of ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban. It became a source of international criticism over the mistreatment of prisoners and the prolonged imprisonment of people without charge.

There are about 40 detainees currently at the prison in Cuba. At its peak in 2003, the detention center at the Navy base on the southeast tip of Cuba held nearly 680 prisoners.

The announcement of a closure plan was not unexpected. Biden had said as a candidate he supported closing the detention center. 

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. After 9/11, 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 Jose Padilla and Ali Saleh al-Marri, a Qatari arrested in Illinois as an alleged al-Qaida associate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

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