Guantanamo at 10: What Do Americans Know About Camp?

 @ashleyportero
on January 12 2012 3:36 PM
Guantanamo at 10: What Do Americans Know About Camp?
Critics of the NDAA claim it could eventually be interpreted to imprison U.S. citizens indefinitely without trial. Reuters

Ten years after President George W. Bush opened the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, it's hard to say what the average American actually knows about what is possibly the most infamous military prison in the world.

While the international press is overflowing with articles characterizing the detention facility as an enduring blot on America's good name that weighs heavily on America's conscience, there have not been any solid steps made toward closing the facility, which currently houses 171 captives from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at the price tag of about $800,000 annually per inmate, The Miami Herald reported.

The camp, which has had 779 detainees marched through its gates in its decade of existence -- ranging from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to individuals like Mustafa Ait Idr, who appeared to be at the wrong place at the wrong time -- actually isn't the shame of the U.S., at least when judged by public opinion.

Although President Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo during his 2008 campaign, in March 2011 he signed an executive order to resume military trials for detainees, a move The Washington Post wrote will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military camp and all but cements Guantanamo Bay's continuing role in the U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Still, despite the stories of indefinite detention, wrongful imprisonment and interrogation practices that are tantamount to torture, according to anACLU's analysis -- although that point is hard to prove, as evidenced by the federal court ruling in detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif's lawsuit against the Obama administration, where his accusations of abuse at the hands of the U.S. military are redacted to the point of being incomprehensible -- Americans are not pushing for Guantanamo's closure.

A January 2009 Gallup poll taken after Obama's inauguration found that only 32 percent of respondents said it was very important for Obama to follow through on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Another Gallup poll conducted during the same period found that 35 percent of Americans thought the prison should be closed, but 45 percent who said it should remain open.  A CNN/ORC poll conducted in November 2011 reports that 52 percent of respondents believe the military prison should continue to operate, versus 33 percent who said the U.S. should close the prison and transfer the detainees to another location.

However, an analysis of the human and economic costs associated with maintaining the detention facility could make some Americans question the validity of keeping the controversial facility open.

The Human Cost: Only 6 Gitmo Detainees Convicted Since 2002

Of the almost 800 suspected terrorists who have been imprisoned in the detention camp since 2002, only six have been convicted by a military commission, while only six the 171 detainees currently being held have been charged by a military prosecutor. Roughly 600 prisoners were released with no charges after being imprisoned for years, most under Bush, raising the question of why they were detained in the first place.

Moreover, the U.S. government itself has admitted that 92 percent of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo were never al-Qaida fighters. 

In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that 89 of the 171 detainees currently housed have been approved for transfers to either their home countries or a third nation, but still remain at Guantanamo. In its decade of operation, the prison has held at least 15 children under the age of 18, the youngest of whom was 13 at the time of his arrest. Eight prisoners have died, six by suspected suicide.

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that documents it has secured demonstrate that Guantanamo was at one point a perverse laboratory for ruthless interrogation methods.

Prisoners were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme temperatures and prolonged isolation. So inhumane was the interrogation regime that the FBI instructed agents not to participate, the ACLU wrote on its Web site.

Both HRW and the ACLU report that the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by Obama on New Year's Eve, makes it likely the detainees currently being held at the military prison will be imprisoned even longer.

The law, according to HRW, effectively bans federal court trials for prisoners -- although as of now, only one Gitmo prisoner has been tried in federal court -- by prohibiting the use of U.S. Defense Department funds to transfer detainees to the U.S. It also makes it more difficult for American officials to transfer detainees to their home or third countries.

The ACLU, along with many other critics of the NDAA, also insist the legislation contains a sweeping provision that will apply the Guantanamo principle of indefinite military detention without charge or trial to American law for the first time in history. Although it has been heavily debated, critics say the law's detainee provision could potentially apply to U.S. citizens who are suspected of aiding terrorists, a step many see as a grave threat to the liberties guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Economic Cost: $800,000 Spent Annually on Each Detainee

Imprisoning a suspected terrorist at Gitmo is about 30 times more expensive than keeping a captive on U.S. soil.

In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and other Cabinet officials wrote that the Defense Department spends approximately $150 million per year on detention operations at Guantanamo, currently at the rate of more than $800,000 per detainee, when intelligence and court costs are factored in, according to an investigation by The Miami Herald.

According to the report, in their cell blocks cooperative captives get satellite television with sports, news and religious programming as well as Arabic soap operas. Prison staff reportedly have their own gym, housing and newsletter, dining rooms and first-run movie theater at 'Camp America' adjacent to the camps, in addition to an Irish-style pub, golf course and an on-site. drive-through McDonald's.

Each captive reportedly consumes almost $40 worth of food per day. That comes out to more than three times what the average American spends to sustain themselves each day, and 10 times the amount U.S. federal prisons spend to feed each prisoner.

In 2011 alone, the U.S. government reportedly spent $12 million running the Guantanamo military commissions. In addition, the U.S. is spending almost $70 million a year to imprison the 89 detainees who have already been cleared for release.

It is difficult to predict what the future of operations at the Guantanamo Bay will be. On Monday, The Hill reported White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that while the Obama remains committed to closing the facility, it will not necessarily happen anytime soon.

The commitment that the president has to closing Guantanamo Bay is as firm today as it was during the campaign, Carney said. We all are aware of the obstacles to getting that done as quickly as the president wanted to get it done, what they were and the fact that they continued to persist.

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