As the U.S.’s annual defense funding bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) looms in Congress, it is essential to consider the harm that the Guantanamo prison does to the U.S. This year the NDAA will likely contain misguided provisions that would prevent all transfers out of the prison (even detainees who have been unanimously cleared for transfer), and make it impossible to close Guantanamo, which national security leaders say must be done. The prison’s use by al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in their propaganda is just another reason to move forward responsibly with closing the prison.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay has been costly to the United States in many ways. Fiscally, it has cost the U.S. more than $5 billion since opening, and costs nearly $400 million per year for its dwindling detainee population. With 122 detainees left, that’s more than $3 million per detainee per year. It has also cost us counterterrorism cooperation with important allies, who have resisted extraditing suspects to the United States because of concerns those suspects would be sent to Guantanamo. Guantanamo Bay has also cost us in the propaganda war with jihadist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. Human Rights First has collected more than 30 examples of these groups using the prison in their propaganda since 2009.
Both President George W. Bush and President Obama have acknowledged that Guantanamo Bay has been a propaganda boon for the United States’ enemies. In his memoir Decision Points, President Bush wrote, “[T]he detention facility has become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies. President Obama, most recently in a speech in March, agrees, saying “It is used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists.”
U.S. action and the prison at Guantanamo Bay are not to blame for any of al Qaeda or ISIL’s actions – that responsibility rests with those groups – and is not the primary reason that these groups target the United States in its actions or statements. But the prison is a tool that these groups use to denigrate the United States, promote their ideologies, and justify their actions. Closing Guantanamo would rob these groups of a powerful propaganda tool.
Congress should vote against any provision of the NDAA that would prevent responsible transfers and keep Guantanamo open any longer. The prison has cost the United States too much already.
Timeline: Guantanamo Bay: A Terrorists’ Propaganda Tool
Issue Brief: Al Qaeda and ISIL Use of Guantanamo in Propaganda