Former US officials who helped set up and run the notorious US military prison in Guantánamo Bay have warned President Donald Trump’s administration about the economic consequence of keeping the facility open.
In a major foreign policy shift announced in Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, the president signed an executive order to reverse former President Barack Obama’s eight-year effort to close the facility in Cuba.
Trump also predicted that “many” new inmates could soon be flown there.
But those involved in establishing the detention center and running military tribunals there under former President George W. Bush warned that the move would be counterproductive, draining money, stretching the military and acting as a recruiting sergeant for terrorist groups around the world.
The former US officials and military lawyers warned that Trump risks repeating a $6 billion mistake by keeping it open.
“With respect to the Guantánamo military commissions, we have screwed them up so bad for so long that they are beyond redemption,” said retired Colonel Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor of the military commissions set up in 2002.
“We’ve invested roughly $6.5 billion on detention in Guantánamo and what has it gotten us? We wasted our money. These guys could have been housed in federal prison for a fraction of the cost. We have over a thousand troops that are dedicated to the detention operations that could be used elsewhere. We have squandered our credibility around the world in these trials,” Davis said.
On Tuesday, Trump signed a new executive order to keep Guantánamo open. Trump said that new prisoners, including members of terrorist groups like Daesh (ISIL), will also be sent to the military facility.
Obama had pledged during his 2008 presidential campaign to close the military prison, but failed to fulfill his promise in the face of stiff opposition from the Congress.
Human Rights First, a human rights organization based in New York City, estimates the annual cost of keeping a prisoner in Guantánamo at more than $10 million, compared with $78,000 at a Federal high-security prison in the US.
The total number of detainees incarcerated at Guantanamo in its 16 years of existence is 780. Of the 41 remaining inmates, 23 are being held for indefinite detention without charge or trial.
More than 700 prisoners have been transferred to other countries. Only three have been convicted of a crime.
“The real tragedy here is that the 9/11 victim families have needlessly been denied justice.
This could have been over and done long ago, but for it becoming a political issue,” Davis said.
John Bellinger, a legal adviser in the Bush White House, said he thought that, given past failures, there would be institutional resistance to refilling the camp.