Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dug his heels in against the idea of relocating Guantánamo Bay detainees to U.S. soil on Thursday, calling the facility’s detainees “crazy bastards” in a Senate floor speech. Meanwhile, a new report from the federal Government Accountability Office suggests that, if the U.S. government ever does shut down its infamous detention center in Cuba, some of the detainees could be transferred to Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston.
The brig, which is located in Hanahan, was identified as one of 104 domestic locations that could house the 166 suspects currently being held at Guantánamo. The report suggested six facilities within the Department of Defense and 98 prisons within the Department of Justice could safely hold the detainees. A map of the 98 prisons appears to include four South Carolina facilities, but they are not listed specifically in the report.
“Gitmo,” as you may recall, was established during the Bush administration to house “unprivileged enemy belligerents” (under U.S. Code Title 10, Section 948a) in connection with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. President Barack Obama vowed early in his first term to shut it down but has so far failed to keep his promise. One of the obstacles to shuttering the facility is the problem of where the detainees would be transferred. Nobody, it seems, wants a suspected terrorist in their backyard. A similar report in 2009 also elicited a NIMBY backlash.
The ever-hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham summed up the sentiment in a Senate floor speech Thursday, as reported by Politico:
Simply stated, the American people don’t want to close Guantánamo Bay, which is an isolated, military-controlled facility, to bring these crazy bastards that want to kill us all to the United States. Most Americans believe that the people at Guantánamo Bay are not some kind of burglar or bank robber. They are bent on our destruction. And I stand with the American people that we’re under siege, we’re under attack, and we’re at war.”
Isolation and military control, of course, are part of the problem with Gitmo. Human rights advocates and the United Nations have long called for the overseas facility’s closure, citing documented instances of torture, the suspension of prisoners’ rights as guaranteed by the Geneva conventions, and the denial of the right of habeas corpus — that is, the right to be present at a trial. In 2006, during a hearing about British residents being held at Guantánamo, British high court judge Andrew Collins remarked, “America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee and a proponent of shutting Guantánamo down, asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office last month to present a report on what to do with the Guantánamo detainees in the event that the facility is ever closed. The report noted that obstacles would arise whether the U.S. government chose to go the DOJ route (using domestic prisons to house former Gitmo detainees) or the DOD route (using brigs and military prisons like the one in Charleston). In prisons, there would need to be new policies for housing suspected terrorists, safeguards to ensure the protection of employees and domestic prisoners, and a way of separating the new detainees from the general prison population. In brigs, the U.S. government would have to deal with similar safety concerns, the addition of interrogation rooms and recording devices, the continuation of existing missions, and a law prohibiting the confinement of military members in “immediate association” with foreign nationals.
According to the report, the Charleston brig was only 23 percent occupied as of August, with 102 inmates and a maximum capacity of 439. It was the second least-occupied of the six DOD facilities being considered, behind the Naval brig in Chesapeake, Va., which had a 20 percent occupancy rate.