• “War on Terror” icon—Guantanamo Prison—a costly mess
The United States Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba has been called “the most expensive prison in the world,” costing U.S. taxpayers nearly $200M annually to maintain. Four years ago while on the campaign trail, President Barack Obama promised to close it, but to this day 166 prisoners live there in cages. This week AMERICAN FREE PRESS takes a hard look at “Gitmo,” asking the million-dollar question: Why is it still open?
By Victor Thorn
Exactly four months after the false-flag September 11, 2001 “terror attacks,” the Bush administration opened the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, otherwise known as Gitmo. In the 11 years since then, 779 prisoners of war, alleged terrorists and Arab revolutionaries have been incarcerated there. Today, only 166 remain, most of whom have been cleared of any charges and should be sent home. Who are these people, and why are U.S. taxpayers paying hundreds of millions of dollars to keep them in cages, living like animals?
Although details surrounding most of the inmates remain secret, the government claims that a few “high-profile prisoners” remain at Gitmo, such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abu Zubaydah. These three were supposedly involved in the 9-11 plot or had close ties to Osama bin Laden. All of them were transferred to Gitmo in 2006 from secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “black” torture sites maintained around the world.
Unknown to most Americans are the circumstances surrounding the original capture of most detainees. During a March 28 interview, Nancy Talanian of No More Guantanamos told AFP, “The majority of prisoners are there because they were sold for bounties under false pretenses. After 9-11, the Bush administration dropped leaflets in Afghanistan and Pakistan offering a $5,000 bounty for information regarding terrorists, so people turned in complete strangers to get the money. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf bragged that the U.S. handed over millions under this program.”
Obviously, these men don’t represent the world’s “worst of the worst” terrorists as is often claimed. Military tribunals have only led to seven convictions, while approximately 600 were eventually released without charges. In a March 24 interview, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, a U.S. military attorney who advocates for Guantanamo detainees, told AFP, “90 percent of [inmates] have no charges against them . . . the vast majority of people at Gitmo are cleared to go home.”
Ms. Talanian confirmed this information in a March 29 follow-up with AFP. “On January 22, 2010, the Guantanamo Review Task Force submitted its final report where they said all but 35 of the detainees either could be tried or were safe for transfer to their home countries or to third countries. Top officials in the military, intelligence and Department of Justice all signed off on this report.”
When asked why Gitmo remains open, Ms. Talanian replied: “It’s not rational to expect politicians to do the right thing. Detainees don’t have a vote, and since it didn’t hurt Obama’s chances for reelection, it’s a political liability to stick their necks out for these 166 prisoners.”
Facing a Lifetime of ‘Indefinite Detention’
Following Barack Obama’s February 12 State of the Union Address where it became evident that he would not honor his promise to close Gitmo, 31 prisoners—almost a quarter of the camp’s population—are on hunger strikes. Some of the men are now hospitalized, or are suffering hearing and vision loss from malnutrition. Eleven of the 31, including one man named Tariq Ba Odah, are being force-fed, which entails being restrained to a chair with a rubber feeding tube inserted through their nostrils to pump in dietary liquids. Odah is originally from Yemen, but was arrested in Saudi Arabia and turned over to the U.S. military. He was then sent to Gitmo. He has never been charged with a crime, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit that monitors prisoners internationally.
On March 28, AFP interviewed Matthew Daloisio, an organizer for the group Witness Against Torture. In 2005, Daloisio walked with protesters from Santiago on Hispaniola to Gitmo,where they fasted outside the prison’s gates. When asked about the hunger strike, Daloisio responded: “It’s an intensifying crisis that demands response. Eighty-six inmates have been cleared of all charges. Obama promised that they’d be released and the prison closed.”
Matt Hawthorne, policy director at National Religious Campaign Against Torture, agreed. On March 27 he told AFP, “The detainees feel hopeless that this prison still isn’t closed.”
Attorney Carlos Warner, who visited Gitmo twice since the hunger strike commenced, told AFP on March 28: “On Feb. 13 I saw a client at Gitmo who weighed 140 pounds. Upon meeting him last week, he’d dropped to 108 pounds.”
When AFP inquired about the reason behind this hunger strike, Warner explained: “After command changed hands from the Navy to Army, the inmates had their photos and mail confiscated, while officials searched their Korans for contraband. I don’t think their reactions would have been so dramatic, but with frustrations running high after Obama broke his promise to close Gitmo, they’re facing a lifetime of indefinite detention. This is the match that lit the fire.”
Death Only Way Out of Gitmo
By Victor Thorn
In January, the State Department closed down its own Guantanamo Bay prison closure office and reassigned Daniel Fried, the only envoy responsible for resettling detainees. If anything, it looks like the White House is intent on expanding Gitmo into a larger facility.
In a March 26 column, former Project Censored award winner Stephen Lendman complained about the current administration’s plans to expand—not close—Gitmo.
“[Obama] broke every major promise made,” wrote Lendman. “Appalling human rights violations continue on his watch. Torture remains policy. It persists throughout Washington’s gulag. Obama bears full responsibility.”
To get a firsthand account, on March 28 AFP spoke with Assistant Federal Defender Carlos Warner, a man who has visited Gitmo on at least 30 occasions, twice within the past month. He has also represented several of the inmates.
As a way of clarifying his disappointment, Warner began: “I’m a liberal that supports Obama. I had faith in him. But there’s no evidence that Obama will ever close Gitmo. I need to call the facts as I see them. Guantanamo isn’t a priority for the White House.”
Warner continued: “In their press briefings, Obama spokesmen say they remain committed to closing Gitmo, but it’s nothing but rhetoric. Or, they make policy decisions to blame the GOP so that liberals will be calmed. But there’s no will at all. Obama’s actions completely belie his words.”
Stressing the seriousness of this situation, Warner explained: “Obama made a promise, then utterly failed to follow through. Because of that, men in Gitmo are starving themselves to death. When someone dies at Gitmo, I won’t blame Lindsey Graham or John McCain. I’ll blame Obama.”
When asked to provide a snapshot of Gitmo today, Warner spoke from direct experience.
“Despite possessing very modern prison facilities, the mood is one of utter hopelessness,” he said. “Most of these men were declared innocent and freed for release, but the only way they’ll leave Gitmo is through their deaths. Obama hasn’t done any work to repatriate them. As a constitutional attorney, it’s incomprehensible that Obama still embraces the idea of indefinite detention, especially when it’s outlawed under the Geneva Conventions.”
In a July 23, 2012 article, political journalist and civil rights expert Glenn Greenwald addressed how, like with so many other aspects of U.S. foreign policy, Obama is little more than a continuation of neocons George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. “In January 2010 the Obama administration announced it would continue to imprison several dozen Guantanamo detainees without any charges or trials of any kind, including even a military commission, on the grounds that they were ‘too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.’ That was all Obama’s doing, completely independent of anything Congress did.”
Greenwald further revealed that Democratic congressmen voted to block funding for Gitmo’s closure because no one in the current administration has offered a workable plan for reassigning detainees. In essence, Greenwald concluded that Obama is acting as Bush-Cheney II. “The administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial.”
Taken a step further, Obama has directly halted the transfer of 57 Yemeni prisoners that have been designated for release. Nancy Talanian of “No More Guantanamos” provided the reasoning behind this decision during a March 28 AFP interview.
“The Yemenis are being kept at Gitmo because the 2009 Christmas Day Bomber was indoctrinated in Yemen,” said Ms. Talanian. “So, to save face with the Republicans, Obama put up a moratorium to keep them in Gitmo.”
To get a better idea of Obama’s tactics, AFP contacted Bill Schuerer, director of the anti-war group Peace Majority. Schuerer began: “I’m from Obama’s home base of Illinois, so I never had high hopes that he’d close Gitmo. It’s all political wishful thinking. I still remember when Obama said he wasn’t against all wars, just dumb wars. He wants to push the U.S. toward what he considers ‘just wars.’”
On a more positive note, Schuerer offered a suggestion. “All of the most high-profile anti-war and human rights groups like CODE PINK should charter a boat and organize a flotilla like they did in Gaza. That would heighten awareness and get some domestic coverage from the mainstream media. Hopefully, your article will lead to this idea.”
Why No Gitmo Sequestration?
Further evidence that Barack Obama has no intention of closing Gitmo arrived via a March 22 announcement that $49M will be devoted to the construction of an additional prison for “special” inmates on the Cuban island. In an era of canceled White House tours and an almost $17T national debt, why are more funds being shoveled down this bottomless money pit?
Although exact figures are murky, a June 7, 2010 Washington Post article by Scott Higham and Peter Finn estimated the total bill at Gitmo has now exceeded $2B. This includes $220M originally funneled to Dick Cheney’s cronies at KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, for initial construction costs.
Today, annual operating fees at Gitmo total $150M. With only 166 detainees still remaining, that averages out to over $900K per inmate. To gauge this figure, the median fee to house convicted men at U.S. federal prisons equals $27K.
The waste to taxpayers is outrageous, as Higham and Finn reported in their article. For example, imagine what everyday Americans could do with $249K expended on a volleyball court, $296K for a go-kart track, or $3.5M squandered on playgrounds. Higham and Finn also noted, “The Pentagon spent $683K to renovate a café that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee, and $773K to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant.”
With one in every six Americans collecting food stamps, the multi-millions blown at Gitmo could certainly feed plenty of citizens in our own country.
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 40 books.