CAPITOL HILL - With only about eight months left in office, President Barack Obama is still trying to fulfill his campaign promise to close down the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At its peak, close to 800 so-called enemy combatants were detained at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo. Now, there are 80 detainees left, and the president would like to empty the center and close it down, saying it provides terrorists around the world with a powerful recruiting tool because of its tainted reputation.
But Congress has repeatedly passed legislation to keep the president from relocating detainees to prisons on the U.S. mainland, citing national security concerns.
Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania wants to continue that policy. Perry, who is chairman of a Homeland Security Committee panel on oversight and management efficiency, held a hearing Thursday to look at the impact relocating detainees would have on local communities.
Perry summed up the situation like this: "The American people do not want Gitmo terrorists detained in their communities, their neighborhoods or down the street from their children's school. Fortunately, Congress passed legislation that prohibits transferring Gitmo detainees to the homeland — and the president signed it. However, he's still moving forward with his legacy-driven agenda, which includes closing Guantanamo, despite the will of the American people."
'Keep the terrorists where they are'
Perry invited South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has been outspoken about not wanting detainees transferred to a naval brig near Charleston. She told the panel that Defense Department officials visited the navel brig, but have not kept her informed about their plans.
Haley brought up last June's massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church Bible study by suspected killer Dylann Roof. Roof allegedly killed nine people in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as they prayed with him.
Haley told the committee: "Last summer, the people of Charleston stared hate directly in the eye. We know true hate, and we know what fear it can bring. We don't need to see it again, nor do we wish it on any other state. Keep the terrorists where they are, where they belong. Do not bring them to my home."
Democratic members of the panel seized on Haley's mention of the alleged Charleston killer, saying they have always objected to people calling him a "deranged individual." His actions make him a "domestic terrorist," they argued.
Security issues in S.C.
Ranking member Bennie Thompson addressed the issue of suspected killer Roof currently being imprisoned in South Carolina.
"And has that posed any security issues, to your knowledge, to the people of Charleston?" Thompson asked Haley.
"We won't let it pose any security issues,” Haley responded. “But what I can tell you right now it is a constant reminder."
Thompson argued that the U.S. has a long record of successfully incarcerating convicted dangerous terrorists in U.S. maximum-security prisons, with no escapes.
But Haley said she would do everything in her power to keep detainees away from South Carolina. Most Republican panel members said they also would work to keep detainees at Guantanamo.