2nd March 2016, 11:39 AM
Shutting down guantanamo
The Obama administration this week will begin the task of trying to persuade Congress to support its plan to shut down the prison in Guantánamo Bay before the president leaves office in January.
Republican lawmakers all too often have been reflexive and thoughtless in their opposition to closing Guantánamo, one of the most shameful chapters in America’s recent history. Closing the prison by the end of the year is feasible. It would make the United States safer, help restore America’s standing as a champion of human rights and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
In recent weeks, the Pentagon and the State Department have made considerable progress toward the goal of further reducing the number of inmates at Guantánamo, which stands at 91. Of those inmates, the government expects to resettle 35 in other countries by this summer.
Of the remaining 56, 10 have been convicted of terrorism charges or have pending cases before the military commission established to prosecute terrorism suspects.
That leaves 46 inmates whose fate is uncertain.
Lawyers who represent Guantánamo inmates say that roughly 10 of those detainees would be willing to plead guilty in federal court to charges such as providing material support to terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism. The logistical and legal challenges of those potential plea deals should be relatively easy to overcome if officials at the White House and the Justice Department make settling those cases a priority.
American officials are separately exploring the possibility of sending some detainees to allied countries that might be willing to prosecute them. Meanwhile, in the coming months, a review board consisting of officials from multiple national security agencies will continue to examine whether some of the remaining detainees can be cleared for release.
Progress on those fronts would reduce the population at Guantánamo to a very small number. And that would make the cost of running the overseas prison increasingly hard to justify. The cost to taxpayers in the 2015 fiscal year was an astounding $445 million, which translates into a per-detainee amount that is exponentially higher than the cost of housing maximum-security prisoners at a federal correctional facility.
There will inevitably be a small number of detainees whom the government deems ineligible for prosecution and too dangerous to release. Officials at the Pentagon have been studying detention sites in the United States where they can be sent. Unfortunately, Congress has passed legislation that bars the administration from bringing Guantánamo detainees onto American soil.