America can't afford the real cost of Guantánamo
The consequences of ignoring Guantánamo, its abuses, and its hunger strikers are foreboding – for the prisoners and for America. President Obama must release prisoners with no case against them, move the rest to US courts to be charged and tried, and finally close the detention facility.
In his April 30 press conference, President Obama responded to a reporter's question about the hunger strikers at Guantánamo with a promise to reengage with Congress to close the US detention facility in Cuba. While that is encouraging news after his five years of relative silence on the subject, it doesn’t go far enough. In fact, Mr. Obama’s policies have allowed the injustice at Guantánamo to continue.Skip to next paragraph
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Americans can not afford the cost of inaction any longer: Guantánamo serves as a recruitment tool for Al Qaeda. It threatens America's global standing as a beacon of justice and the rule of law. And it undermines the international legal precedents that would protect US prisoners abroad as well.
It’s high time for Obama to take action on Guantánamo. Its prisoners must be released or charged and tried and the facility closed. With some hunger-striking prisoners reportedly near death, the matter is urgent.
The facts speak for themselves. Of the 166 current “detainees” in Guantánamo, relatively few of them are actually accused terrorists awaiting trial. Eighty-six have been cleared for release to their home countries or other nations willing to accept them. But the Obama administration stalled the transfers in 2009 over concerns about instability in Yemen. Beyond that, a total of 46 detainees have not been charged with any crime and are approved for indefinite detention.
A decade-long detention without end in sight has given rise to hopelessness and despair among the inmates. One hundred of the 166 detainees are now reportedly on a hunger strike. In an effort to suppress the strike, prison authorities have punished participants with forced-feeding (21 of them), lockdowns, and solitary confinement.
Guantánamo also comes at a high price to American taxpayers, costing them $177 million per year. That's an annual cost of more than $1 million per prisoner. Now the military is requesting another $200 million for prison renovation.
Defenders of Guantánamo argue against releasing any prisoners, even those determined to be without connection to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. As part of Defense spending bills, Congress has routinely passed amendments barring the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to US prisons. Amendment supporters argue that these individuals post a grave threat to US safety, are enemy combatants, and should not be held in civilian prisons or tried in civilian courts.
Some have raised concerns about the ability of federal civilian courts to adequately mete out justice for accused terrorists. But the Department of Justice has successfully handled more than 1,000 terror trials, with a more than 90 percent conviction rate.
In the name of national security, Guantánamo defenders would have the US government continue to violate the international legal standards and conventions that America helped create after the Second World War.
It would be no surprise if prisoners who have been tortured and indefinitely detained by the US for more than a decade rallied to America's enemies upon their release. However, it's unclear how many released Guantánamo prisoners have actually joined militant groups.