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Pentagon: Guantanamo tab $5.2 billion and counting

Communal living cell blocks inside Camp VI Detention Facility, at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Feb. 7, 2013.

BRIAN GODETTE/U.S. ARMY

By CAROL ROSENBERG | The Miami Herald | Published: July 30, 2013

New number-crunching by Democrats campaigning for Guantanamo’s closure says the Pentagon spends nearly a half-billion dollars a year — a whopping $2.7 million per prisoner — to operate its offshore prison complex in southeast Cuba.

The figure is by far the largest per-prisoner cost ever calculated and apparently, for the first time, includes troop costs. The ostensibly temporary Pentagon prison has, since it opened in 2002, been staffed largely by troops trained up on their way to Guantanamo for rotations of nine months to a year.

The cost for this year — $454.1 million to operate, staff and build at the prison complex — comes from a report by the Defense Department’s Office of the Comptroller.

It was first provided to Congress on June 27 by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and made public last week.

The report says the Pentagon will have spent $5.242 billion by the end of 2014.

The total costs, however, are likely higher. The accounting does not appear to include the prison camps’ state-of-the-art headquarters, built in 2004 for $13.5 million, or a secret lockup for ex-CIA prisoners, called Camp 7, the price tag of which is considered classified.

In addition, the Justice Department and FBI have devoted staff to detainee operations, and probably the CIA.

At Guantanamo, the prison camps spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said the $2.7 million-per-prisoner figure apparently represents “fully loaded costs” of maintaining what is today a 2,000-strong staff at the sprawling detention center zone where 166 captives are confined to seven different lockups — including the hospital and psychiatric wards.

One way to reach that figure, said Durand, would be a “soup to nuts” accounting, including contractor cost as well as possibly the salaries and benefits of the National Guard and Reserve forces who make up about half of the 1,700 uniformed troops working at the prison, mostly U.S. Army military police and infantry troops.

In 2011, a Miami Herald report estimated per-prisoner costs at $800,000 a year, dubbing the detention center “arguably the most expensive prison on Earth.” That figure was based on an accounting by the U.S. Southern Command that totaled $138.8 million in operating costs. Southcom said then it was not possible to account for all costs of staffing the prison. At the time it had 171 captives and a staff of 1,850 troops and contractors.

The Pentagon comptroller’s report to Congress shows that the actual cost in 2011 was $521.9 million.

Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the Department of Defense now estimates the detention center’s operating budget at about $150 million a year —and considers military construction and troop salaries an entirely different matter. Guantanamo’s mobilized reservists would likely be serving anyway, perhaps in Afghanistan, he said.

“The cost of the various salaries of service members and contractors, who would be paid the same regardless of where they’re assigned, is not a cost we include in our total Guantanamo detention facility cost approximation,” he said.

“To be sure,” Breasseale said, “$150 million a year is hardly a reasonable cost to the American taxpayer, and as the president has stated, it is terrifically inefficient.”

The comptroller figures, dated June 2013 and marked “For Official Use Only,” first surfaced last week at a subcommittee hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee called by Richard Durbin, D-Ill., a longtime advocate of closure.

“Do the math: 166 prisoners, $454 million. We are spending $2.7 million per year for each a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay,” he said last week. “What does it cost to put a prisoner and keep them in the safest and most secure prison in America in Florence, Colo.? $78,000 a year against $2.7 million that we’re spending in Guantanamo.”

More math shows Durbin’s $78,000 estimate of Colorado SuperMax confinement means Guantanamo is about 35 times as expensive in a prison that doesn’t maintain a court system or house, feed or entertain its guards.

Guantanamo’s troops “do a magnificent job under difficult circumstances,” said Durbin, according to a transcript of the hearing. But the costs “would be fiscally irresponsible during ordinary economic times. But it’s even worse when the Department of Defense is struggling to deal with the impact of sequestration, including the furloughs and cutbacks and training for our troops.”

The Defense Department report doesn’t specifically detail housing costs, and Durbin’s spokesman said the senator’s staff had no additional information. But the comptroller’s summary of costs provides categories that the Pentagon now acknowledges are prison-camp related.

For 2013 they include:

—$14.1 million, for prisoner review boards for the 71 captives at Guantanamo who are currently not cleared for release, convicted of crimes or awaiting trial;

—$40 million, already appropriated by Congress for a not-yet-built fiber-optic cable linking the base to Florida;

—$56.9 million for contractors, including intelligence analysts, librarians and linguists;

—$65.9 million to the Navy base, which functions as a landlord to the detention center zone, and charges for use of its facilities, including prison staff housing;

—$116 million for the base’s war court complex, including security, translation and computer services as well as charter flights between Washington and Guantanamo.

At the U.S. Southern Command in Doral, Fla., Army Col. Greg Julian said the $454.1 million estimate for this year does include some one-time infrastructure expenses, such as the $40 million fiber-optic cable. But it “doesn’t take into consideration all the money we requested to replace the aging facilities” — including construction of a new Camp 7 for the alleged architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and 14 other former CIA captives.

Southcom has also sought but not yet won appropriation of funding for a new prison dining facility for both troops and captives and new barracks for the troops, who now live in a range of housing around the base.

Bushes overgrow what remains of Camp X-Ray on July 26, 2013. In 2002, the camp was established as a temporary detention center on Guantanamo Bay.
CASSANDRA MONROE/DVIDS

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