South Carolina will “do whatever it takes” to block the Obama administration from transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, the state’s Gov. Nikki Haley said on Thursday.
“We are not going to allow any terrorists to come into South Carolina,” Haley told reporters during a press conference.
Haley’s remarks came shortly after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reporters in Washington that the Pentagon was “evaluating alternative detention sites” for current Guantánamo detainees who have been deemed ineligible for transfer to other countries. Carter said both the Charleston brig and Fort Leavenworth in Kansas were being assessed as potential detention sites.
“This does not mean that either of these sites will be chosen,” said Carter. “We will be assessing other locations in the coming weeks."
President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility during his first run for the White House and signed an executive order intended to fulfill that promise as one of his first acts in office. Yet the prison remains open more than seven years later. Attempts to close it have been hamstrung by opposition from Congress and what White House critics describe as a lack of political will on the president’s part.
Nonetheless, Guantánamo’s population has shrunk as detainees cleared for transfer to other countries have been shipped abroad. The trickier dilemma for the White House is what to do with those prisoners who have not been deemed eligible to be moved out of U.S. custody.
Haley said she would do anything within her power to prevent those detainees from being moved to South Carolina. She also vowed to work with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to make sure they would not end up at Fort Leavenworth.
“This is not about me wanting them to go to Kansas, either,” said Haley. “I don’t think they should even go there, so I’m going to make sure that I work with him in every way that we can."
Haley did not say how she would prevent the White House from shipping Guantánamo prisoners to South Carolina, but she did vow to work with her state's Congressional delegation, suggesting that a tactic similar to one that Brownback used in 2009 might be on the table.
As a senator in 2009, Brownback managed to scuttle an attempt by the White House to move some detainees to Kansas by threatening to block Senate confirmation of Obama nominees.
“The transfer of GITMO detainees to Kansas was a bad idea at the beginning of the Obama administration and it is a bad idea today,” Brownback said last week. “The citizens of Kansas do not support moving terrorists to the heartland of America."
Brownback on Thursday spoke with Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work and once again made clear his opposition to housing Guantánamo detainees in Kansas, according to a statement from his office.