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Guantanamo Bay only has 40 prisoners left. They cost half a billion dollars a year
The prison complex at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba naval station built after the Sept. 11 attacks that was billed as the venue for the "worst of the worst" in international terrorism now seems be the site of the "worst of the worst" in government excess.
As reporter Carole Rosenberg wrote in The New York Times on Monday, the total cost in 2018 for housing just 40 prisoners, paying the guards, and running the military tribunals there is somewhere north of $540 million, or roughly $13 million per prisoner.
The cost to house a single prisoner in California, meanwhile, is about $75,560 — which earned it a comparison to attending Harvard, a couple grand less.
As Rosenberg writes, it's not exactly an apples and oranges comparison between Gitmo and other federal prisons. Since it's situated on an island outside the United States, the Pentagon has to send guards on rotations there — usually National Guardsmen or reservists — as well as account for costs like Coast Guard patrols of the nearby waters, medical staff, lawyers, chaplains, and all the requisite support staff.
"I think it's a horrible waste of money. It's a catastrophic waste of money," retired Air Force Col. Gary Brown, an ex-legal advisor to the former head of Guantánamo's military court, told NPR last week. Brown has filed a federal whistleblower complaint that alleges "gross financial waste" and "gross mismanagement" at the facility, according to NPR.
One part of the cost equation comes from government prosecutors, who have been pursuing death penalty convictions for some, which critics say is a waste of money and time given that the evidence in many cases is "tainted by torture." And, as Brown further argues, even if they get a conviction, most of those cases will result in lengthy appeals that will cost billions more (Brown pushed for settlement negotiations instead).
This has also brought in a windfall for at least some civilian defense attorneys, whom the Pentagon pays for the special skills in navigating death penalty cases. Despite military judges ordering the non-disclosure of how much is being paid to defense attorneys at Guantánamo, NPR got its hands on a document showing that some bill roughly $500,00 a year.
Still, as Rosenberg notes, the costs are rising despite the falling number of prisoners.
In 2013, it cost about $2.7 million per prisoner (which is, admittedly, still a lot!), up from an estimate of $800,000 per prisoner in 2011. Factor in the age of some of the prisoners still there and the medical care they'll eventually need, and it's easy to see the $13 million figure going even higher.
"They brought a new cell down that is wheelchair accessible, so you're going to have the most expensive, most notorious old-folks home in the Caribbean that you've ever seen," Michel Paradis, a defense attorney for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole naval warship, told NPR.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has confirmed that a nightmare scenario has come to pass: Captured ISIS fighters are escaping as a result of Turkey's invasion of Kurdish-held northeast Syria.
Turkey's incursion has led to "the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees," Esper said in a statement on Monday.
Video footage of a purported "bombing of Kurd civilians" by Turkish military forces shown on ABC News appeared to be a nighttime firing of tracer rounds at a Kentucky gun range.
The U.S. military's seemingly never-ending mission supporting civil authorities along the southwestern border will last at least another year.
On Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide a total of up to 5,500 troops along the border until Sept. 30, 2020, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said on Monday.