$900,000 per inmate per year and growing. That’s the shocking price of the world’s most expensive prison, the federal detention center at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay. When President Barack Obama talked about why he wanted to shut down the notorious prison this week, he cited the cost as one of the reasons why.
Obama signed an executive order to close the prison over four years ago, in one of his first official acts as president. However, Congress hasn’t funded Obama’s attempts to move the prisoners.
Guantanamo was established by Republican President George W. Bush, in the wake of the 911 terror attacks. By housing foreign terror suspects on a US Naval Base in Cuba, he was able to hold prisoners in indefinite military detention without a trial in a civilian court.
However, the prison comes at a cost, since the nation of Cuba won’t trade with Americans. Almost everyone and everything has to be flown into Guantanamo by military aircraft, which means that the costs mount exponentially — especially when military tribunals are in session.
By comparison, it costs $70,000 or less to house an inmate in a supermax security prison.
The average cost to hold a federal prisoner for a year is about $30,000 — although the lower price is probably not a fair comparison, since it would include prisons that don’t require the highest level of security against escapes.
There’s also a cost to America’s international reputation.
The Economist, a respected UK news magazine, published a report online Saturday that said that 100 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo are currently hunger-striking. Around 23 men are being force-fed, a process that they claimed can cause gagging and bleeding in the patient.
“This newspaper has condemned Guantanamo as unjust, unwise and un-American for a decade,” the statement said.
Some movie-goers may recall a scene in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko when he sailed to Cuba with some 911 rescue workers who couldn’t afford medical treatment in the United States.
Having been told of the million-dollar hospital provided to the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, Moore used a megaphone to ask the US Navy to give his people some of the high-priced medicine the evil-doers were getting.
Of course, Moore’s boat was chased away.
Sure, it was a publicity stunt. But it was also a reminder that as far back as 2007 — and even before — the United States was spending an awful lot of money to hold 166 prisoners while other people go without basic needs.
The Pentagon said that the total cost is $150 million a year for Guantanamo, which may seem like pocket change to the Department of Defense. But $900,000 per inmate looks like a real budget leak to a lot of people.