Price of Keeping Gitmo Open Dwarfs U.S. Prison Estimates

Kansas Representative Lynn Jenkins is asking the Congressional Budget Office to produce a study on the cost of closing the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay and detaining the remaining prisoners in the United States. Fort Leavenworth, in Representative Jenkins’s district, is one possible destination for those detainees. The Pentagon’s initial plan to accomplish this would reportedly cost up to $600 million, including a one-time construction cost of $350 million, and less than $300 million annually to run. President Obama rejected it, and asked for a less expensive plan. But even if those were accurate figures, it would still be a less odious price than continuing to operate the Guantanamo facility.

The reported cost of running detention operations at Guantanamo in 2014 was almost $400 million dollars, while the 2015 cost was purportedly about the same. The real cost is likely significantly higher, as this figure does not include the classified costs of Camp 7, which houses high-value detainees like the 9/11 conspirators. It also does not include the cost of Justice Department, FBI, and CIA involvement in detention operations.

The minimum cost of holding a Guantanamo detainee, therefore, is around $4 million per year. The cost of holding a prisoner at the federal maximum security “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, by contrast, is around $78,000 annually. Even if you factor in the cost of trials for some Guantanamo detainees, federal prisons are cheaper by millions.

Moreover, the costs of maintaining the Guantanamo prison are likely to balloon in the coming years, with an aging detainee population which will require medical care not available on the base. This will involve costly transportation of medical supplies and personnel to the remote base. These services would be much more readily available in the United States.

Transportation costs to the island base are already high, with flights for military commission hearings (for attorneys, witnesses, observers, victims’ family members, and others) reportedly costing around $90,000 each way. With lead prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins eager to speed up the military commission cases, more flights will be needed. And if cases proceed simultaneously (BG Martins’s goal), at least one more courtroom will need to be built, costing millions. If these hearings were held in the United States, the transportation costs would drop dramatically and building new court rooms may not be necessary.

The prison’s crumbling infrastructure will also increase costs. Gitmo was built as a temporary facility, and much of the infrastructure needs repair. The military requested $200 million to repair Camp 7. Because of its location, repairs at Guantanamo cost far more than repairs to facilities in the United States. According to General John Kelly, former SOUTHCOM Commander, at Guantanamo, “A 10-penny nail costs 20 cents. Everything’s more expensive.”

The costs of operating the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay are unsustainable, and the benefits are few. National security leaders favor closing the facility not only because of its exorbitant costs, but also because of its negative national security effects. Even with an initial one-time construction cost of building a new facility or modifying an existing facility, the price of holding these detainees would be cut dramatically over the long term if they were brought to the United States.

Human Rights First’s plan to close Guantanamo can be found in its latest Blueprint: How to Close Guantanamo.

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Published on February 1, 2016

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