Gitmo Preps for an Upgrade

This monument to the war on terror is still open, and it's costing taxpayers a fortune.


Bethanie Mitchel/SIPA/Newscom

Whether the U.S. manages to broker a peace with the Taliban or not, one legacy of the war on terror remains—the prison at Guantanamo Bay (also called Gitmo). At its height, this symbol of Bush administration power held 600 people. And as miserable as the infrastructure reportedly is down there, its commander, Navy Rear Admiral John Ring, says he could fit 200 more people if given an increase in the same number of soldiers. He'd rather have an influx of money, however.

So there were once 600 prisoners. Now there are only 40. Forty people being watched over by 1,700 soldiers. Forty people who have been held in limbo for going on two decades now. Some of them, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are clearly mass murderers who should still have their trial (and if he ever does, the torture he suffered will be a terrific coup for his defense). Others linger in prison, not charged, not freed, and generally making a mockery of the whole American concept of a speedy trial. The spooky thing is how comfortable the country became with letting people stay in prison without trial.

You might recall that President Obama made a campaign promise to close Gitmo. His efforts petered out once people realized criminal trials of the remaining detainees would take place in the continental U.S. And in fact, the public—particularly the Republican public—has long been opposed to shutting the place down and letting detainees face trial. Obama clearly had little interest in using his political capital on forcing the issue. Now, President Trump heartily supports the prison, and the most recent omnibus spending bill involved a heaping $115 million just for permanent troop barracks (plus more than $85 million in other costs).

Under Trump, neoconservatives are beloved allies, and worrying about Gitmo is so early aughts. But it's still there. In fact, the U.S. appears to be taking the idea of sending a fresh crop of 50 or so accused ISIS fighters (out of nearly 1,000) there, particularly if the American withdrawal from Syria actually goes through.

The military preference is to send suspects back to their country of origin, and have them be prosecuted there. However, that obviously doesn't always work out in a war not fought against nation states. Plus, dependable warmongers of today, including Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio want to add some fresh ISIS blood to Gitmo. This is in spite of the potential for the whole thing to backfire on hawks. A 2017 Heritage Foundation study cautioned that ISIS prisoners would have a particularly strong case against being held there, thanks to the legality of the war against them being itself on shaky—or at least unchallenged—ground. Whether ISIS fighters end up in Gitmo or not, Trump is not likely to be worrying about whether the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force legalizes the war against ISIS. However, the current plan is that Guantanamo Bay will continue operating for the next two and a half decades. It seems unlikely that most or even many prisoners will get a trial during that time.

If the problem of indefinite detainment doesn't strike your fancy, or you're just used to it by this point, there's always the fact that Gitmo is appallingly expensive. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that the prison costs $454 million to operate every year. In 2013, that amounted to $11 million for every prisoner. Since it opened, the prison has cost taxpayers nearly $5 billion.

Another strange-to-comprehend cost is the looming fact of Gitmo's population aging. According to NBC, detainees' "average age is 46, and one is now 71." As expensive as the prison is for taxpayers, the reality is that government-funded elderly prisoner care is always going to come at an insane cost. The secretive Camp 7, home of the most 15 most valuable prisoners, is reportedly in the worst kind of shape, and is cracking and sinking. Congress has doled out money for a medical center for detainees, and for various resources to keep troops moderately well-fed and clothed. However, they refuse to approve funds for new facilities for detainees. Unsurprisingly, most of the more than $350 million Congress has set aside for Gitmo is for the benefit of the base, not the actual prison.

For those who believe Gitmo to be a humanitarian and civil liberties horror, it's difficult to know what to support. Inhumane conditions are not acceptable, but the absurdly bloated costs are also wildly unnecessary.

Congress could give Gitmo the $69 million Ring says they need to make a cheaper, more sustainable prison. Or they could withhold it and let these unsympathetic rogues age and suffer indefinitely. But we don't need to waffle, Obama-style, because Trump has declared Gitmo an "enduring mission" that will last long after his presidency. This is another legacy of the war on terror that we can't rid ourselves of, or even begin to imagine that such a thing is possible.

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  1. Hm, I could have sworn Obama closed Gitmo.

    1. And you can keep your doctor if you like your……..oh fuck it.

      1. Don’t lose sleep. Obama didn’t pardon all the black men “who look like his sons”.

    2. New president now. Republicans may look, talk, and act braindead, but it turns out they have opposable thumbs capable of signing bills too.

  2. Lucy makes a compelling argument for executing the remaining detainees and filling the o,ace with progressive de democrats like AOC, Bernie, Soros, Pelosi, etc..

    Real enemies of the republic, individual freedom, and humanity in general.

    1. Lucy makes a compelling argument for executing the remaining detainees and filling the o,ace with progressive de democrats like AOC, Bernie, Soros, Pelosi, etc..

      Real enemies of the republic, individual freedom, and humanity in general.

      Okay, Beria. Why don’t we just throw in the poets, doctors, scientists, and anyone else who is considered to be a public intellectual as well?

      1. Are they making a tangible contribution to ending the Bill of Rights? If so, then add them to the list. If not I don’t give a shit about them.

        The people I named want to enslave you or maybe turn you into a lampshade and a bar of soap. How can you not see this?

        1. Yeah, we don’t want anyone out there taking a meaty dump all over the Bill of Rights…

        2. I think you just volunteered yourself for Gitmo, genius. Self-awareness, how do it work?

        3. Also, we don’t talk about Lucy.

  3. Camp Gitmo is an unconstitutional abuse of government power.

    Shoot these guys on the battlefield (general court martial), give them a trial (US federal district court), or let them go.

    1. If they’re Al Queda commanders and the like, then I say kill them. I can’t imagine we’re holding onto them if they’re much of anything else.

      1. If they’re






  4. “$11 million for every prisoner” That’s got to be some kind of record.

    We could just close the base and leave everyone to the Cubans.

    1. Payback for when Jimmy Carter let Castro empty his prisons into Florida.

      1. But isn’t Fidel dead?

  5. The Monument to the Gold Standard, Fort Knox, is still open…….Why?

    1. Why indeed?
      Especially since it’s most likely empty.

  6. At this point the only way this national disgrace will be handled without any politician showing any balls is to let the ones there die of natural causes and then shut it down, whenever that may be.

    Wasn’t it funny when certain numbers of yokels thought Trump would be anti-neocon instead of yet another one of their dumbfuck puppets?

    1. Is it neocon? Does that mean Obama and Clinton are neocons?

      1. Obviously they are almost completely to blame for Gitmo.

    2. Not as funny as watching dumbfucks like you claim that Obama shut it down.

      1. Nobody said that. On the other hand, dumbfucks like you think Obama is the one packing migrant children like sardines, somehow.

        1. Put those goalposts back where you found them right now, young man.

  7. “Obama clearly had little interest in using his political capital on forcing the issue.” This assumes that after the Stimulus and ACA Obama had any political capital left. He did not. The remaining 6 years of his administration showed us a man without any clout in Congress whatsoever. Unable to get anything done he resorted to Executive Orders and his “pen and a phone”. Even that was useless on the issue of Guantanamo Bay. Whether Obama would have done anything on this matter if he had any clout in Congress to use is anybody’s guess, but it’s moot. He didn’t, so he didn’t.

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  10. Honestly, what’s the point?


    Give them trials, and then do whatever is appropriate, be that execution, release, or life terms.

    Take them out back and shoot them, because keeping them locked up forever at outrageous costs like this is insane and pretty much just as cruel.

    Let them go?

    Send them to a more reasonable prison location?

    Basically anything but this stupid situation would make a lot more sense.

  11. It was a travesty when it was opened and continues to be a travesty. It’s a stain on our nation and makes every American outside of this country less safe. I’m AM glad that someone (Thanks Reason!) other than me is continuing to bring the topic of the gitmo prison up.

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