WASHINGTON (CN) — With the Obama administration planning to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States after closing the naval base, the Republican governor of South Carolina told Congress her state is off limits.
"You could pay the state of South Carolina to host these terrorists, and we wouldn't take them," Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday. "For any amount of money. There is no price worth the fear this reckless idea would strike in the hearts of the people of my state."
A clear partisan divide emerged during the hearing of the Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee, a division of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, questioned the distinction between domestic and foreign terrorists, noting that Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter who killed nine people in June 2015, is imprisoned in South Carolina.
"The fact that you can hold a domestic terrorist means you have the ability to safely house a very dangerous person who others would want to do harm to," Richmond said to Haley.
President Barack Obama announced the plan to close Guantanamo on Feb. 23, but Haley said the Department of Defense contacted her back in August 2015 to assess the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston as a potential facility for any detainees shipped out of Guantanamo.
Few details on that plan have emerged in the last few months, however, Haley said.
"We deserve answers as governors," she said.
Subcommittee chairman Scott Perry echoed this point.
Calling the Obama administration's plan to close the detention facility "devoid of specifics," the Pennsylvania Republican said it failed to address the questions and concerns of state and local law enforcement.
Haley conceded that Guantanamo's existence generates propaganda for terrorist groups, but said relocating detainees to Charleston will simply move the focal point of the propaganda north.
"With the increased accounts of homegrown terrorism and terrorist sympathizers around the country, we do not want to put a bulls-eye on what has been named the number-one vacation destination in the country for four years in a row, simply to fulfill a misguided campaign promise," Haley told the subcommittee in opening remarks.
Rep. Perry meanwhile warned that a facility housing Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil "could become an attractive target for lone wolves, and other radical Islamist extremists may be inspired to perform jihad in the homeland."
Either way, Haley said, South Carolina would face an "inevitable economic downturn," as businesses stop investing and tourists stop coming.
Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security undercut the risk Perry mentioned. Of the 25,000 foreign fighters who tried to join extremists in Iraq and Syria, only 1 percent - 250 of them - are American, according to a 2015 report.
"These concerns simply are not supported," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said, citing "years of research and analysis by the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security."
"There is no evidence that suggests housing Guantanamo detainees will bring additional attacks, attention, or danger to the United States," he added.
While Roof's presence in South Carolina undermines Haley's argument, Thompson reminded the committee that the only person charged for the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans in Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, is housed on U.S. soil.
For almost two years, Ahmed Salim Faraj Abu-Khatallah has been "held in Alexandria, Virginia," Thompson said, "approximately 15 miles from where we are sitting now."
"Some of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known are incarcerated in U.S. maximum-security prisons," Thompson noted.
Indeed, five of the seven bombers convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured more than 1,000 are serving life sentences at the Supermax prison near Florence, Colorado, as noted by Thompson.
Another, Nidal Ayyad, is serving his life sentence at USP Big Sandy, a federal high-security prison in Kentucky, according to the Bureau of Prisons federal inmate finder.
The seventh - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and alleged 9/11 mastermind - is detained at Guantanamo, awaiting trial before a military commission.
"No one - terrorist or any criminal - has ever escaped from the Supermax prison," Thompson said.
Thompson's committee heard from a second panel of witnesses Thursday that included Ken Gude with the Center for American Progress.
Gude noted that both the prior and current administrations have brought suspected terrorists captured overseas to the U.S. for trial and incarceration.
On the risks of housing Guantanamo detainees in U.S. prisons, Gude said, "we don't have to speculate, we have the wisdom of experience."
Gude noted that President George W. Bush, a Republican, was the first to bring Guantanamo detainee Yaser Hamdi into the United States in 2002.
The U.S. did so, however, after discovering that Hamdi held U.S. citizenship. After landing in a naval prison brig Norfolk, Virginia Hamdi ended up at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston before the U.S. released him to Saudi Arabia in 2004.
"It is unclear to me why that was not the same kind of incredible security risk that Governor Haley and the members of this committee seem to indicate it was in the first panel, when Yaser Hamdi was held in Charleston for two years," Gude said.
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