GOP lawmakers decry Obama decision to move terror trials

This is an undated photo of the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig Charlestown, north of Charleston at Hanahan, S.C.
This is an undated photo of the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig Charlestown, north of Charleston at Hanahan, S.C.

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers Friday bitterly criticized President Barack Obama's decision to try accused terrorists in the United States and warned against moving detainees to South Carolina.

But congressional aides said the accused mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, could be detained and tried before a military commission at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston.

Attorney General Eric Holder said four other detainees now held with al Nashiri at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, will be transferred to the United States for military commission trials.

Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminster Republican and gubernatorial candidate, said his staff is exploring possible litigation to prevent Guantánamo detainees from being moved to South Carolina.

"We are going to try to engage every piece of ammunition we have to make sure these terrorists don't come to the United States," Barrett said. "They have sworn their lives' blood to bringing death and destruction on this country. They are the worst of the worst."

"To bring them to New York City is totally unacceptable," Barrett said. "To put them in Charleston is unacceptable. To put them anywhere in America is wrong."

S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia, who is running against Barrett for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, raised the possibility of filing suit if S.C. lawmakers in Washington don't prevent the transfer of alleged terrorists to the state.

"If our congressional delegation fails to stop President Obama from transferring terrorists to American soil, Attorney General McMaster would consider using any tool at his disposal to stop terrorist transfers to South Carolina," said Rob Godfrey, a McMaster spokesman.

Rep. Henry Brown, a Hanahan Republican whose district includes the Naval Weapons Station, has introduced a bill to prohibit detainees from being brought to South Carolina.

Other U.S. House Republicans have advanced separate legislation to block the transfer of alleged terrorists to any site in the United States. Democrats, who control Congress, have stymied both measures.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, and House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, a York Democrat, declined to comment on Obama's decision.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and four other accused plotters of that assault will be brought from Guantánamo to New York for separate trials in civilian federal court, Holder said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who failed last week to block trials of the accused Sept. 11 plotters in civilian courts, said senior Obama aides had asked him to withhold comment on Obama's decision until the president could meet with the senator after Obama's return next week from his trip to Asia.

"As our commander in chief, I will honor his request," Graham said. "I look forward to discussing this issue further."

New details emerged about the potential transfer of accused terrorists from the Guantanamo prison to the Consolidated Naval Brig in North Charleston:

_ Pentagon officials recently traveled to the state and asked officers at the Charleston Air Force Base detailed questions about its office space and capacity for additional administrative personnel.

_ The Air Force and the Navy are both involved in discussions because Guantánamo detainees would be flown to the Charleston Air Force Base and then transported to the Navy brig 12 miles away. The air base has more room for administrative staff than the naval facility.

_ Discussions focused on the number of support staff that would be needed to provide sufficient security and logistical aid for holding six to 10 Guantánamodetainees in the brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston.

_ Detainees could be held in Charleston for military commission trials there or elsewhere. They might include al-Nashiri, who allegedly devised the plan to blow up the USS Cole.

The sprawling Naval Weapons Station takes up 35,000 acres, with its headquarters located in Charleston and the brig based in Hanahan.

The new details were disclosed by Sen. Jim DeMint and by Senate aides in separate interviews. They cautioned that no final decision has been made and that other military bases on the U.S. mainland are being considered as destinations for some of the 215 detainees now at Guantánamo.

Pentagon officials had previously named the Charleston brig, Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and Camp Pendleton in California as potential sites for the detainees.

"We do not want some of the most dangerous people in the world transferred to American soil, and certainly not to a facility like we have in Charleston, which is a minimum-security facility," DeMint said.

The Pentagon classifies the Consolidated Naval Brig as a "medium-security" prison.

Two days after taking office, Obama issued an executive order pledging to close the Guantánamo prison within a year.

The 2009 Military Commissions Act, which Graham helped craft, requires the president to give Congress at least 45 days' advance notice of transfer of any detainees from Guantánamo.

That deadline is approaching if Obama is to meet his goal of closing the Guantánamo prison by Jan. 22, the one-year anniversary of his executive order.

"It is clear that the wheels are in motion to move terrorist suspects to American soils," Brown said. "We have an obligation to protect Americans from these dangerous individuals. It is disconcerting that the Naval Consolidated Brig is being considered as a possible location for Guantánamodetainees to face trial."

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald contributed to this article.

Related stories from Miami Herald