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Washington - Guantanamo Camp Costs $900,000 A Year Per Inmate

Published on: May 6, 2013 09:31 PM
By: Reuters
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A handout photo released 18 January 2002, U.S. Army military police escorting a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. EPA/Shane T. Mccoy/US Department of DefenseA handout photo released 18 January 2002, U.S. Army military police escorting a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. EPA/Shane T. Mccoy/US Department of Defense

Washington - It’s been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.


By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.

The high cost was just one reason Obama cited when he returned this week to an unfulfilled promise to close the prison and said he would try again. Obama also said that the prison, set up under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush and long the target of criticism by rights groups and foreign governments, is a stain on the reputation of the United States.

“It’s extremely inefficient,” said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, who has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay since 2005.

“That ... may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,” Gude said.

The cost argument could be a potent weapon at a time of running budget battles between Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and of across-the-board federal spending cuts that kicked in in March. The “sequestration” as it is known, is due to cut some $109 billion in spending up to the end of September and has cut government services small and large.

Just one inmate from Guantanamo, for example, is equivalent to the cost of 12 weeks of White House tours for the public - a treasured tradition that the Secret Service says costs $74,000 a week and that has been axed under sequestration.

A single inmate is also the equivalent of keeping open the control tower at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport for 45 months. That control tower, another victim of cuts, costs $20,000 per month to run.

The $900,000 also matches the funding for nearly seven states to help serve home delivered meals to the elderly. Sequestration has cost Meals on Wheels a median shortfall of $129,497 per state, the organization says.

Or measured in terms of military spending and national security, the cost of four inmates represents the cost of training an Air Force fighter pilot - based on the Department of Defense’s figure of $3.6 million per pilot.


The huge cost of running the prison and judicial complex stem from its offshore location at a 45-square-mile U.S. Naval Base on the southeastern coast of Cuba. Because ties between the two countries are almost nonexistent, almost everything for the facilities has to be ferried in from outside.

When the military tribunals are in session, everyone from judges and lawyers to observers and media have to fly into Guantanamo on military aircraft. Food, construction materials and other goods are shipped in from outside, experts say.

But despite the high cost of the camp, and despite the fact that Republicans traditionally demand belt-tightening by the federal government, a Republican aide with the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said there was little point in asking if the price was worth it because “there isn’t an alternative at the moment.”

“No one has any particular affection for Guantanamo Bay, but no one has come up with a practical solution that’s better,” the aide said.

Obama needs to produce a plan for what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo “who are too dangerous to release,” Representative Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an opinion piece in USA Today this week. “Until a better solution is offered, at Guantanamo they must stay,” he wrote.

Among current inmates, nine have been charged with crimes or convicted, 24 are considered eligible for possible prosecution, 86 have been cleared for transfer or release and 47 are considered too dangerous for release but are not facing prosecution.

But until now, worries about security have prevented the idea of transferring some or all of the inmates to the United States from getting much traction.

Obama pledged to close the prison within a year after first taking office in January 2009 but his efforts ran aground, partly because of congressional opposition, from both Republicans and some in his own Democratic Party, to transferring prisoners to the United States.

Inmates started a hunger strike in February that has swelled to some 100 prisoners and has led to force-feeding of 23 of the prisoners. With the camp back under a critical spotlight, Obama told a news conference on Tuesday he would renew efforts to shut it down. He has an array of options, some of which would be more achievable than others.

Gude said it was difficult to figure out how much the United States has spent overall on Guantanamo detention facilities since it began housing prisoners there in 2002 because administrations only recently have been noting the expense in a budget line item.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an estimate but it is certainly more than $1 billion by a comfortable margin, I would say, probably more than $2 billion,” Gude said.

Above the annual operating cost, capital spending on the prison could rise again if the Pentagon receives the funding it says it needs to renovate the place.

General John Kelly, the head of Southern Command, which is responsible for Guantanamo, told a House of Representatives panel in March that he needed some $170 million to improve the facilities for troops stationed at the base as part of detention operations. Kelly said the living conditions were “pretty questionable” and told the panel, “We need to take care of our troops.”

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Read Comments (15)  —  Post Yours »


 May 06, 2013 at 09:39 PM lipa21 Says:

well line them up and get rid of them - why capture them alive


 May 06, 2013 at 09:41 PM yoyoyo Says:

Idiots. I'm much cheaper. Give me 1 inmate and I only charge you 800,000 a year. I'll keep him in my basement and I'll treat him the same as he's being treated in Guantanamo.


 May 06, 2013 at 10:28 PM Anonymous Says:

Move Em to the saint Regis in manhattan. It's $1,000.00 a night. That's $365,000.00 a year. Save over half.


 May 06, 2013 at 11:11 PM Anonymous Says:

I don't get it. These terrorists go on a hunger strike (saving US a fortune for the food), and we force feed them? Just let them die of hunger without our help. They all deserve the death penalty anyway, and we save a lot on the trial, the accompanying circus, the implementation of the sentence, and even the alcohol swabs that are used to sterilize the injection site. It's Win-Win!


 May 06, 2013 at 11:20 PM posaikacharon Says:

And all this money is BEFORE the state supplied lawyer representing them (sometime in the far future). And minus the cost of force feeding them. After all is said and done, they're millionaires!


 May 07, 2013 at 12:30 AM Anonymous Says:

Guantanamo is a big fiasco with a little paycheck. We need to eventually move these prisoners but I think it will be a while before anyone resolves the issue.


 May 07, 2013 at 01:51 AM Jay Leno on 4/30/13 Says:

President Obama held a press conference earlier today, and he said he still wants to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, but he doesn’t know how to do it. He should do what he always does: declare it a small business and tax it out of existence.It will be gone in a minute. Be gone in a minute! One month! Be out of there!


 May 07, 2013 at 04:56 AM PashutehYid Says:

The frum summer camps cost almost as much.


 May 07, 2013 at 08:23 AM Anonymous Says:

didn't king obama say in his first term he was closing this place down,
so basically its not closed, he will blame bush for it still being opened, and keep on spending this much money for these animals


 May 07, 2013 at 08:24 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
yoyoyo Says:

Idiots. I'm much cheaper. Give me 1 inmate and I only charge you 800,000 a year. I'll keep him in my basement and I'll treat him the same as he's being treated in Guantanamo.

with so many people out of work, so many people on welfare, food stamps........why doesn't the regime hire these people to watch these inmates


 May 07, 2013 at 08:33 AM Aryeh Says:

Lol! Our moral compass is broken since 9/11


 May 07, 2013 at 08:33 AM Aryeh Says:

Lol! Our moral compass is broken since 9/11 we kill civilians with drones and force terrorists to stay alive on our expense


 May 07, 2013 at 11:51 AM savtat Says:

Something's fishy! It cost NYS $14,000 per student in school each year - how is it that these inmates cost so much for upkeep? Someone's making a lot of money!


 May 07, 2013 at 12:42 PM Raphael_Kaufman Says:

I think that there are two classes of prisoners at Gitmo, Taliban and foreign Al Qaida fighters. The captured Taliban could be considered captured enemy combatants in which case they are entitled to the honors of war under the Geneva Convention and can be held until cessation of hostilities, which is basically forever. The Al Qaida fighters are classed as terrorists and mercenaries. The Geneva Convention offers no protection to them and, under the Convention, they are entitled to no more than summary execution.


 May 07, 2013 at 10:43 PM marcia Says:

Reply to #12  
Aryeh Says:

Lol! Our moral compass is broken since 9/11 we kill civilians with drones and force terrorists to stay alive on our expense

I could say the same thing about Israel...there is nothing wrong with our "moral compasses"! The fact is, representatives and organizations for these "prisoners" or "terrorists" pay their high priced lawyers to SPIN their plight, making Israel and America the evil jailers! WE need to counter and fight fire with fire! Let the newspapers know that these prisoners are NOT on a HUNGER STRIKE...but rather a FAST of their own CHOICE as is done QUITE OFTEN IN THE ISLAMIC RELIGION! They are simply CLEANSING THEMSELVES in the name of THEIR RELIGION! They are such PIOUS PEOPLE!


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