WASHINGTON — South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley delivered a clear message to the White House regarding its consideration of moving Guantanamo Bay prisoners to South Carolina: “Keep the terrorists where they are — where they belong. Do not bring them to my home.”
“Our focus now is how do we keep our service men and women safe, because right now if I sit down and talk to my FBI affiliates as well as my chief of SLED [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division], that’s who we are trying to protect because the targets are on any military people in uniform and any security in uniform. And then if you go and you put it in a place like South Carolina, we are not only going to have protests but we will also have threats that we don’t have right now,” Haley said Thursday an Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee hearing on “Transferring Guantanamo Bay Detainees to the Homeland: Implications for States and Local Communities.”
“Why would you move something there and cause stress on this country when right now this country is going through so many homegrown issues on its own, to turn around and add one more to it?” she added.
The Department of Defense contacted the governor in August of last year to discuss potentially transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to South Carolina – one of the states under consideration for relocation that’s currently against the law – so the Obama administration can close the prison located in Cuba.
“Not only was it against federal law to put Guantanamo detainees in the United States but why would anyone want to put terrorists in Charleston? Charleston, the city we call the holy city, the city named the No. 1 vacation spot in the country for four years in a row,” Haley said. “In South Carolina, the state that was named the friendliest state in the country, the most patriotic state in the union. It makes zero sense.”
She expressed concern about the economic impact of housing detainees in her state. Mercedes-Benz, Boeing, Google and other large companies operate in the Charleston area.
“How am I to tell these companies that they will be sharing an address with the most heinous and dangerous terrorists on earth — that the city they chose to call home is now going to be one of the most high-profile terrorist targets in the world?” she asked. “The truth is I can’t and I won’t.”
Obama has argued that Guantanamo Bay serves as propaganda and a recruitment tool for terrorists. Haley pointed out that 9/11 happened before Guantanamo Bay existed.
“So, too, certainly would a similar facility located in Charleston, South Carolina, Leavenworth, Kansas, or Florence, Colorado,” she told the subcommittee.
“Moving detention operations from a secure facility outside of the continental United States and into Charleston, South Carolina, will not stop the propaganda. This line of thinking is giving these terrorists too much credit and validity. Terrorists do not need a jail to hate us. They hate us all on their own.”
Haley said moving Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the U.S. would not improve relationships with foreign countries, as Obama has suggested.
“Whether the terrorists are detained on an American military base in Cuba or somewhere in the United States, they will be held under the same legal authority, by the same country, in the same manner, for the same duration, and for the same reasons. Why does the ZIP code matter from a foreign relations standpoint?”
Haley argued that a prison that houses some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists should not be on the list of cost-saving measures. Obama said his plan would save taxpayers money in the first 10 years.
“I come from a state where we balance our budget – I promise we can help you find the $85 million elsewhere to cut,” Haley said. “You could pay the state of South Carolina to host these terrorists, and we wouldn’t take them. For any amount of money.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked Haley if she would consider accepting the detainees if the Department of Defense indicated that the federal government would fully cover the cost.
“They could tell me they would pay South Carolina to house these terrorists and I would not take them. The state of South Carolina does not want them,” she responded.
“I appreciate your opinion,” Thompson said.