Numbers Don’t Lie

On April 5, 2016, Charlie Savage of The New York Times reported that two more detainees had just been transferred from Guantánamo’s detention facility, reducing the total to 89. Officials expect to transfer another 35 by summer’s end, which would bring the number to 54. This significant depletion, as will be seen, argues ever more powerfully for shuttering the prison.

Human Rights First tells us that the cost of running the prison facility in 2015 was $445 million, though the actual amount was higher, since that did not include the cost of Camp 7, which holds “high-value detainees.” That number is classified. Over the course of 2015 (as the year closed, the prison population had dwindled to 107 detainees), “the absolute minimum cost ranged between $3.7 and $4.2 million per year, for each detainee.” With the population due to be cut in half by fall from the year-end 2015 level, the cost per prisoner should double. Further, large capital outlays are impending: due to inadequacies in the technological infrastructure, $31 million has been budgeted for building an underwater fiber-optic cable for use by the military commissions and the prison; the military has requested an updated medical facility (with the aging prisoner population, medical costs are expected to skyrocket if the detention facility is not closed); since the entire detention facility was designed to be temporary, its infrastructure is beginning to crumble; finally, new courtroom facilities will be needed. Right now, pretrial proceedings are being conducted in only three cases, but more prosecutions are contemplated.   With only two courtrooms, logjams can be expected, so the Expeditionary Legal Complex will have to be enlarged.

Yet, at a Supermax prison in the U.S., the annual cost of housing prisoners is only $78,000 each.  It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out where the prisoners should be. But Congress, many of whose members claim to be budget reduction hawks, ignore all this red ink, preferring demagoguery to sensible policy. Want to be convinced? On April 7, 2016, The New York Times told us that American prisons currently hold 443 convicted terrorists, including Zacarias Moussaoui, who was directly linked to the 9/11 attacks; Dzhokar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers; and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Underwear Bomber.” And yet those demagogues in Congress—attempting to gain political capital—assert that terrorists cannot safely be held on our own turf!

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