On Wednesday, the White House rejected the Pentagon’s plan for an alternative to the Guantanamo Bay military facility on mainland U.S. soil because it could cost $600 million to implement and was deemed too expensive.
President Obama has made closing Guantanamo Bay’s prison for terrorists a “top priority”—going all the way back to his 2008 campaign promises—and repeatedly vowed all steps will be taken to ensure American public safety,
$600 million is not much for an administration untroubled by losing billions of dollars into the void of poorly-managed social programs. The rejection of the Pentagon plan is even more curious because, as the Wall Street Journal points out, it would pay for itself in a few years: “The annual cost of operating the Guantanamo detention facility now is about $400 million. Under the Pentagon plans, operating a U.S.-based facility would run something less than $300 million, after the one-time costs, a defense official said.”
The Journal cites several reasons for the hefty cost estimate, including tight security requirements, housing for military guards, transportation logistics, engineering challenges, and what might indelicately be described as the need to defend the facility against terrorist jailbreak attempts. Also, there are high legal costs for processing, as one might expect in hyper-litigious America. One proposed cost-cutting measure described by the WSJ would be eliminating “the requirement that detainees be tried by military commissions, and instead to try them in the federal court system,” thus removing the need for a military judicial facility at the prison.
House Speaker Paul Ryan brought up one possible reason for the White House’s reluctance to accept the Pentagon plan: President Obama has repeatedly claimed closing Guantanamo Bay would immediately save taxpayers a huge amount of money. Ryan describes the rejection of the $600 million plan for a Gitmo replacement as a “White House talking point falling flat.”
Noting that Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently said, “the law currently does not allow” for Guantanamo inmates to be transferred to the United States, Ryan observed, “Apparently the budget doesn’t allow for it, either.”
The White House could have defended the Pentagon plan by arguing that $100 million in savings per year would eventually cover the $600 million start-up cost. This administration has offered much flimsier economic arguments on much longer timelines, after all. The fact that President Obama made no such effort to justify the plan on such terms is notable.
Newsmax cites an AFP interview with an unnamed U.S. official who mentions the president’s desire to reduce the cost of the plan but also says there were “things that he didn’t like” about the proposal and mentions that the Paris terror attacks had “changed the political climate.”
Combined with the legal hurdles Congress placed on closing Guantanamo Bay and the distinct lack of enthusiasm from state governments for housing the prisoners, that new political climate might have inspired the White House to spend a few more months reading revised plans and looking for discounts.