The detention camp at Guantanamo Bay remains an ongoing—albeit latent—stain on the United States’ reputation around the world. Since President Obama closed the State Department office charged with finding a way to shut down Guantanamo, attention paid to Gitmo has fallen off the table.
This week, reports surfaced that as many as 25 of the 166 inmates still at Guantanamo Bay are engaging in a hunger strike to draw attention to their continued confinement.
At the same time, the Pentagon revealed plans for $195.7 million worth of renovations at Guantanamo Bay. These plans include $99 million for new barracks, $12 million for a mess hall for our personnel, $11.2 million for a hospital and medical care for inmates, $9.9 million for a legal building for inmates and their lawyers, and $10.8 million for improved communications. Last but not least, $49 million has been proposed to build a new prison to house “high-value” inmates that may remain at Guantanamo Bay.
Obviously, this once “temporary” facility needs renovations after twelve years of continuous operation with no end in sight. In this budgetary climate, $195.7 million for renovations to a prison that President Obama promised to close multiple times is outrageous. Placing aside the ongoing plight of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, which should not go without recognition, these renovations do not fit into our economic calculus. It is even more startling when you look closer at the costs per inmate at Guantanamo. According to Reuters:
The United States spends $114 million a year to run the Guantanamo prison, or about $687,747 per prisoner, according to the Government Accountability Office. That is about 20 times what the U.S. Bureau of Prisons spends per inmate to run its high-security prisons.
It costs approximately $35,000 per inmate, according to the above calculation, to hold inmates at high-security prisons in the United States. The 2013 budget for Guantanamo Bay is reportedly $177 million, meaning it will cost an exorbitant $1,066,265 to house a prisoner in Guantanamo for a year in 2013. That is approximately 30 times what the Bureau of Prisons spends per inmate at high-security United States prisons. Provided nothing changes, over the next decade we will spend a minimum of $1.7 billion to imprison 166 men.
Given the contentious arguments surrounding our budget, shouldn’t we be able to reach consensus on moving these prisoners to a more cost effective facility?
According to President Obama, Guantanamo Bay “weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and strengthening our enemies.” Given human rights concerns, and now budgetary largesse, isn’t it time to release the prisoners we can, try the ones we haven’t, and move those we find guilty to a location in line with international law that would save us money over the long term?