Back to News & Commentary

Why Are We Throwing MORE Money at Guantánamo?

Close Gitmo
Close Gitmo
Zak Newman,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Share This Page
May 20, 2014

At a price tag of more than $4.8 billion since opening, the prison facility at Guantánamo Bay has long been both a moral and financial catastrophe. But the National Defense Authorization Act – headed to the floor of the House of Representatives this week – could include plans to sustain the prison camp at even greater expense.

During the House Armed Services Committee’s recent markup of its annual defense funding bill, lawmakers bemoaned the fact that tight budgets mean hard choices. Combat ship programs, helicopter systems, and even the venerable A-10 attack plane were not too sacred to escape the committee’s scrutiny.

Even so, the committee was able to find some $69 million for a new “High Value Detainee” facility to replace secret Camp 7 at the Guantánamo detention camp – even though the Pentagon did not even request funds for a new prison facility this year, choosing instead to simply renovate the existing structure without additional funding.

The proposed facility would house 15 former CIA captives. That’s a whopping $4.6 million per detainee in construction costs.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) described construction of the facility as an urgent project, saying that facilities at Camp 7 have exceeded their shelf life. Media reports and Guantánamo staff have confirmed that the original Camp 7 was built on shifting ground, creating structural problems that should be addressed.

Still, the structural problems at Camp 7 hardly warrant $4.6 million per detainee. What’s more, when the army did request funds for a brand-new facility last year, it asked for a full $20 million less than the sum House members are currently proposing.

But the numbers game obscures the fact that there is a far better, and far cheaper, option: closing Guantánamo.

In their overkill solution to structural mishaps, committee members actually commit a far more significant error: making permanent the once-temporary and failed experiment at Guantánamo Bay. The Obama administration has renewed its commitment to finally close the Guantánamo detention facility, and the U.S. federal court system is prepared (as ever) to hear cases of detainees for whom charges can be filed. Moreover, leaders of third-party countries have publicly expressed their readiness to accept men from Guantánamo.

Meanwhile, national security leaders from both sides of the aisle have – for years – publicly called for the facility to be shuttered, for the sake of U.S. security interests as much as the detainees’ welfare.

House members should be applauded for their concern – both for detainees and staff. But throwing new money at old ideas – and prolonging the practice of indefinite detention – is no solution at all.

Learn more about closing Guantánamo Bay and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page