Pressure Mounts to Close Crumbling Gitmo

Image: Pressure Mounts to Close Crumbling Gitmo The "Camp 6" detention facility at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

Monday, 01 Sep 2014 07:44 PM

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Pressure to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, or "Gitmo," is mounting — the only problem is, what to do with the prisoners?

While President Barack Obama pledged to shut the rapidly aging and deteriorating prison down, and even signed an executive order in 2009 to do so within one year, Gitmo remains open, housing 149 prisoners, with as many as 50 considered by the administration to be too dangerous to release, Politico reports.

The New York Times has reported on deteriorating conditions at the prison, noting that the Southern Command requested $200 million in improvements last year, but that request was rejected by the Pentagon. 

The prison remains stuck between a rock and a hard place — if money is spent to upgrade the facilities for both prisoners and staff, and the prison is closed, that money would be wasted. If the prison remains open, crucial improvements are needed.

"It’s a long way from being closed," Gen. John F. Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command which includes Joint Task Force Guantánamo, told the Times. "Obviously the president is trying hard, he's got people trying hard to get countries to take them, but at the end of the day, it's going to take congressional action."

That's because House Republicans have voted to ban transfer of prisoners, charging that the Obama administration violated the law when they freed five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May without sufficiently notifying Congress.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Times, "I don't see any support in the House for relaxing the current restrictions, or backing off our ban, in light of the president's recent violation of the law."

An attempt to transfer six detainees to Uruguay fell apart at the last minute when Uruguayan President Jose Mujica backed away from the deal, the Times reports.

Meanwhile, the Times reports, leaking ceilings, buckling floors and inadequate medical facilities cause constant problems at the aging prison.

About 6,000 service members and staff work at the prison complex, and the Times estimates taxpayer expense at about $413 million in 2014, or about $3 million per prisoner per year. If the prisoners were housed in a US federal penitentiary, costs would drop to about $30,280 per prisoner per year.

Rear Adm. Kyle Kozad, who heads the prison task force, told the Times, "We are forced to at least forecast so that we're prepared if this detention facility is open two years from now, 12 years from now, 22 years from now, so that we're prepared to be able to continue to do the mission."

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