Just a few weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced that two detainees cleared for transfer will be sent home, signaling that the administration may be reinvigorating efforts to close the offshore detention facility, albeit not quickly enough. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) argue in an LA Times column that at this glacial pace, “the majority of Guantanamo detainees there today will have been held without trial for almost 15 years…It’s time to close Guantanamo.”
Closing Guantanamo is not the most complex process, compared to other issues the administration and Congress are dealing with today. There is already growing bipartisan support to close the facility. The process is politically complicated, but it’s not rocket science as long as Congress and the administration work together. And that’s why Human Rights First published Guantanamo: A Comprehensive Exit Strategy, a road map to close the facility.
The reality: the military commissions system at Guantánamo has failed—it is both constitutionally defective and ineffective. Not only has Guantanamo become a recruiting tool for terrorists, it has wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to keep it up. Senators Feinstein and Durbin write that the amount it cost to keep someone in Guantanamo is 35 times more than what the United States spends to keep someone in a Supermax prison:
Operating Guantanamo costs about $450 million a year – or about $2.7 million a detainee, according to the Defense Department. Consider this: It costs $78,000 to hold a convicted terrorist in the most secure federal prison in the United States, Supermax in Colorado… This is a massive misuse of taxpayer money.
In a time of austerity and budget cuts, the United States should not be wasting money to keep open a facility that has marred U.S. credibility on human rights. We should move forward with the transfer of 86 detainees who have already been cleared and try others in federal court.
In July’s Congressional hearing on closing Guantanamo, Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino testified that closing the facility is a “risk management issue and that the risks are manageable.”
Massimino notes that the American Correctional Association says that it’s absurd to think that our correctional workers are not able to handle Guantanamo detainees. And for those outraged about trying terrorism suspects in the United States, civilian federal courts have been doing that all along. Since 9/11, federal courts have tried nearly 500 cases related to international terrorism, including at least 67 where suspects were captured abroad, often in inhospitable environments. Military Commissions at Guantanamo have convicted only 7 individuals; two of those convictions have already been overturned.
“The loudest and most persistent calls to close [Guantanamo],” Massimino testified, “come from our own senior defense, law enforcement, and intelligence, and diplomatic officials-people with a 360 view of the cost-benefit of Guantanamo who have concluded that our national security is best served by closing it.”
We agree with Senators Feinstein and Durbin. It’s time. The Obama Administration and Congress must work together to finally close Guantanamo.