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Press Release

Washington, D.C. — As we continue a period of fiscal austerity in Washington, the Center for American Progress released an analysis of Guantanamo Bay showing that Congress has chosen to waste nearly $1.5 billion on the prison in just the past three years, even though the U.S. military and intelligence community have concluded that it is unnecessary and strategically harmful to the United States.

“The current Senate version of the NDAA would save at least $2 billion by easing transfer restrictions for Guantanamo detainees,” said Ken Gude, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the report. “It is shocking that many of the same members of Congress who have slashed defense and domestic spending in an unprecedented push for austerity continue to choose to waste billions on an unnecessary prison camp in Cuba when safe, secure, and much cheaper alternatives exist.”

In the examination of military expenses at Guantanamo, a number of surprising facts are revealed:

  • Since Congress decided to pursue austerity in 2011, it has chosen to spend at least $1.42 billion on the mission at Guantanamo, although it could have been accomplished for just $29.9 million.
  • The United States could save $3.73 billion in the next 10-year budget cycle by transferring detainees to existing U.S. prisons.
  • Simply by transferring the 84 detainees already cleared to leave Guantanamo, the United States could save nearly $2 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Former Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani stood trial in a New York City federal court and is incarcerated in the Supermax prison. Ghailani is the only of the 14 so-called high-value detainees who the CIA held prior to transferring to Guantanamo to be prosecuted in any court. Other such high-value detainees include Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Despite his high-value status, there have been no appreciable increases in costs in his detention and prosecution over a typical high-security defendant or inmate.
  • Even with the excessive security costs requested by the New York Police Department, a trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York City would have been a bargain compared to military commissions.
  • It would be substantially cheaper for the United States to completely fund the construction of a detention facility in Yemen than it would to be to continue holding the 56 Yemenis at Guantanamo that have been cleared for transfer.

A summary of U.S. military spending at Guantanamo and comparative costs:

  • Total cost of Guantanamo through end of 2013: $4.8 billion
  • Guantanamo spending from 2011 to 2013: $1.42 billion
  • Estimated cost of holding all Guantanamo detainees in existing U.S. prisons from 2011 to 2013: $29.9 million
  • Estimated annual cost of holding all 164 current Guantanamo detainees in existing U.S. prisons: $9.9 million
  • Annual cost of keeping detainees who have been cleared for transfer at Guantanamo: $196 million
  • Annual expense of keeping the 56 Yemenis designated for transfer at Guantanamo: $131 million
  • Total cost of military commissions since their inception: $582.1 million
  • Cost of military commissions from 2011 to 2013: $318.9 million, or nearly $160 million each for the two convictions obtained during that time
  • Average cost per conviction in federal criminal court: $19,000

This remarkable waste of taxpayer money could be starting to turn the tide in favor of closing Guantanamo. The current Senate version of the 2014 NDAA would ease restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantanamo that have been the primary obstacle in closing the prison. In a vote on the Senate floor, a bipartisan majority backed these provisions—the first time in either chamber that a measure intended to make it easier to close Guantanamo attained majority support. If the Senate version of the 2014 NDAA becomes law, the portion dealing with transferring Guantanamo detainees to other countries alone would save the United States nearly $2 billion over the next 10 years. If Congress does not reverse course and Guantanamo remains open, the wasted money will be counted in the tens of billions.

Read the report: Guantanamo: America’s $5 Billion Folly by Ken Gude

To speak to an expert, contact Anne Shoup at [email protected] or 202.481.7146.