COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Pentagon team is coming to South Carolina this week to evaluate whether the Navy brig near Charleston could be suitable to house detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials said Tuesday.
A small team will visit the brig Wednesday and Thursday, said Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Defense Department spokesman.
“These site surveys are necessary to determine potential locations for detaining a limited number of individuals in the United States, and to assess the costs associated with doing so. Prudent planning and site visits are necessary in order to assess all potential locations and costs associated with any potential options,” Ross said in an emailed statement.
Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama. The effort has faced hurdles, including staunch opposition among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
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About 52 of the 116 current detainees have been cleared for release. The remaining 64 have been deemed too dangerous.
A similar assessment has already been conducted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Gov. Nikki Haley and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wrote last week to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, threatening to sue the Obama administration if detainees are brought to either state.
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.
South Carolina’s Navy brig has previously held a man accused in an al-Qaida terror plotter. 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.
Baldor reported from Washington.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP