South Carolina, Kansas governors on Guantánamo closure plan: Not in our backyard

Gov. Nikki Haley in this Aug. 13, 2011 file photo speaking in Charleston, S.C.
Gov. Nikki Haley in this Aug. 13, 2011 file photo speaking in Charleston, S.C. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The governors of South Carolina and Kansas wrote to the Obama administration on Tuesday, threatening to sue if detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are brought to military installations in either state.

“We will not be part of any illegal and ill-advised action by this Administration, especially when that action relates to importing terrorists into our states,” Govs. Nikki Haley and Sam Brownback wrote Defense Secretary Ash Carter. “Please know that we will take any action within our power to make sure no Guantánamo Bay detainees are transferred to South Carolina or Kansas.”

At a news conference last week, Haley said Defense Department officials were “wasting their time” in evaluating the U.S. Navy brig near Charleston as a potential site to house detainees and that she would not “allow South Carolina to be a magnet for terrorists.” Also under consideration is a maximum-security Army lockup called The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama. But that effort has faced persistent hurdles, including staunch opposition from congressional Republicans and some Democrats.

As of Tuesday, the Pentagon housed 116 captives at its detention center in southeast Cuba, run by about 2,000 troops and civilian staff.

Several members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford — Haley’s predecessor as governor — and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott have expressed concerns about the potential transfers.

Both the House and Senate versions of the 2016 federal defense policy bill maintain prohibitions on transferring detainees to U.S. facilities. The Senate legislation, however, allows the restrictions to be lifted if the White House submits a plan to close the facility and it’s approved by Congress. House and Senate negotiators are working to reconcile the two bills.

The Navy brig has previously held an al-Qaida terrorism plotter, before he was convicted. Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held there for more than three years without charge as an enemy combatant before he was indicted in Miami. A jury found Padilla guilty in 2007. He’s serving a 21-year prison sentence.

For Haley, the threat to sue the Obama administration is far from an empty one. Since she took office in January 2011, the governor has pushed at least three lawsuits against the administration, on matters ranging from voter ID laws to nuclear fuel production and illegal immigration.

After a lawsuit in 2012, South Carolina’s law requiring voters to present identification was ultimately upheld in federal court. Last year, the state sued the U.S. Department of Energy over its plans to mothball a nuclear fuel repurposing project at the Savannah River Site. And South Carolina was one of more than a half-dozen states to sue Obama late last year over his executive order on immigration.

Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas, contributed to this report.

For a full report on the Obama administration effort, see our Aug. 15 coverage: Pentagon surveying potential U.S. ‘Guantánamo North’ lockups.

Complete Guantánamo coverage at the Miami Herald website.