It is not news to any taxpayer in the country that the United States is facing a debt crisis and that public spending is under scrutiny like never before, yet one decade-long drain on the public exchequer has so far escaped the financial meltdown completely unscathed: The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
The main detention facility at Gitmo cost about $220 million to build and, according to the White House, estimated annual operating expenses come in at around $150 million.
To give you an idea of the kind of value for money this investment represents, the Bureau of Prisons noted last year that it cost $27,251 to incarcerate someone in the federal prison system for a year, as compared to an estimated cost of $650,000 per inmate at Guantanamo.
In additional to the hundreds of millions of dollars lavished on the detention facilities, still more money has been poured into the development of courtrooms for the Military Commissions which, since their establishment in 2006, have only heard six cases.
The so-called Expeditionary Judicial Facility, built for $13.4 million in the heady days when the authorities thought the Military Commissions might actually be capable of hearing two whole cases at the same time, has only been used once since its construction.
The Department of Defense spent $2.2 million renovating accommodation for staff and observers involved in the trials which also currently stands empty.
Then there are the improvements made to the Naval Station itself, which has benefited from ancillary construction projects worth an estimated $500 million, including the construction of a go-cart track, an all-weather sports field, a volleyball court and twenty-seven playgrounds.
There are around 5,500 people living at the Naval Station, including 400 minors hopefully making the most of all those playgrounds, which must make the non-custodial residents of Guantanamo Bay one of the most heavily subsidized communities on American soil.
Last year, the Washington Post estimated that the total post-9/11 bill for spending on Guantanamo comes close to $2 billion. Yes, that’s $2 billion with a ‘b’ for a prison camp that currently holds around 170 prisoners, more than half of whom the administration would release tomorrow if a suitable country could be found to take them.
So, I have a modest proposal to make both parties. Close Guantanamo. Transfer the prisoners you can actually make a case against to federal court and release those you can’t. Then return the money saved to the treasury. That’s a lot of pocket change - change you can actually believe in.