Senator Durbin Corrects the Record on Gitmo

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) published an op-ed in the Illinois State Journal-Register to share some facts about the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to respond to Senator Mark Kirk’s piece in the same paper, which advocated keeping the prison open. Durbin points out that Guantanamo is an expensive waste of taxpayer resources, and that federal prisons and courts can (and do) prosecute and house terrorism suspects more effectively than the U.S. military can at Guantanamo.

Durbin notes (as I also did in a response to Kirk) that the rate of former Gitmo detainees engaging in terrorism and/or insurgency has dropped dramatically since the Obama Administration instituted more rigorous review mechanisms. Furthermore, former detainees who do engage in these activities will be targeted by the United States, “just like Saeed al-Shehiri, a former Guantanamo detainee and the second-ranking official in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who was killed in a drone strike,” Durbin wrote.

Durbin also correctly highlights that Guantanamo gobbles up $445 million a year ($5.5 million per detainee)—far more than a comparable maximum security prison would cost on U.S. soil. Even the Obama Administration’s plan for closing Guantanamo, which involved possibly constructing a brand-new prison facility, estimates that moving remaining Gitmo detainees to the United States would save taxpayers between $65 million and $85 million annually.

Federal prisons house hundreds of people convicted of terrorism-related crimes without endangering any of the communities where the prisons are located. As Durbin writes, “To my knowledge no one in our state has ever expressed any community concern about this fact. We trust the corrections professionals to do their job and their record speaks for itself.” Indeed, national prison officials have asserted that they could handle Gitmo detainees just fine, just as they safely imprison all sorts of dangerous convicted criminals in their secure facilities.

Senator Durbin is exactly right when he concludes, “We cannot afford to waste taxpayers’ dollars to protect a symbol. Let’s spend those dollars to protect American families.” Congress should work with the White House to close Gitmo.


Published on May 5, 2016


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