Fifteen years of pain and suffering outside the rule of law — why can’t we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay?
This January will begin the 15th year since the first prisoners of the War on Terror – who the U.S. government referred to then, as now, as “detainees” – began arriving at this scrubby and perpetually broiling U.S.-controlled naval base on the southeast coast of Cuba. Of the 780 original captives, 538 were released by President Bush before he left office. Though President Obama, who has released 135 men, has said he intends to close Guantanamo before he leaves office, as of this writing, 107 prisoners remain interned on the island, at an annual per-inmate cost of roughly $3.4 million. The annual cost of housing an inmate at a federal or military prison, by contrast, is about $78,000. Forty-eight men have been cleared for release, many of them during the Bush administration. Forty-nine are in the purgatorial state known as “indefinite detention,” including roughly 30 men the government says cannot be tried but are too dangerous to release. Just 10 prisoners, all “high value,” a euphemism for those formerly imprisoned by the CIA, are facing legal proceedings. Three have already been convicted, two with guilty pleas. Seven are currently on trial, though the prosecution of the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing has been frozen indefinitely, and the 9/11 trial has been mired in delays since the men were arraigned in 2012.