The High Price of the “Slow-Motion Berlin Airlift”

by Kevin Jon Heller

There are many reasons to demand closing Guantanamo Bay and ending the military commissions, such as the government’s tendency to invent armed conflicts in order to convict defendants of imaginary war crimes.  But even if you don’t care about the integrity of international humanitarian law or the coherence of the American approach to that body of law, you should still care about how ridiculously expensive it is to incarcerate people at Gitmo instead of in a federal prison in the United States:

The Pentagon detention center that started out in January 2002 as a collection of crude open-air cells guarded by Marines in a muddy tent city is today arguably the most expensive prison on earth, costing taxpayers $800,000 annually for each of the 171 captives by Obama administration reckoning.

That’s more than 30 times the cost of keeping a captive on U.S. soil.

It’s still funded as an open-ended battlefield necessity, although the last prisoner arrived in March 2008. But it functions more like a gated community in an American suburb than a forward-operating base in one of Afghanistan’s violent provinces.

Congress, charged now with cutting $1.5 trillion from the budget by Christmas, provided $139 million to operate the center last year, and has made every effort to keep it open — even as a former deputy commander of the detention center calls it “expensive” and “inefficient.”

“It’s a slow-motion Berlin Airlift — that’s been going on for 10 years,” says retired Army Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti, a West Point graduate who in 2008 was deputy commander at the detention center.

I realize that Gitmo is crawling with evil terrorists who would never miss an opportunity to scream al-Qaeda propaganda from their barren supermax cells in ADX Florence.  And I’m sure that al-Qaeda would immediately combine its many battalions into a massive strike force and invade Colorado. (Love Red Dawn; can’t wait for the remake.)  But I still say it’s a risk worth taking in an economic climate so bad (because of policies pursued by the same people who bleat endlessly about the need to keep Gitmo open forever) that schools are forced to eliminate Fridays.

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