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At a cost of nearly one million dollars per year per detainee, Guantanamo Bay is the most expensive prison in the entire world.

The Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg exposed the runaway costs of the military detention center in a shocking report earlier this week. According to Rosenberg, taxpayers pay about $800,000 annually for each of the 171 detainees in Guantanamo Bay. That number is about 30 times as much as the $25,000 per year it costs to hold a captive in a federal prison.

Some of Guantanamo Bay’s high costs are unavoidable; for example, it is expensive but necessary to transport all of the remote prison’s supplies and personnel by air or by sea.

Other costs — such as massage chairs for the guards, cable TV, a 24,000 book library, and multiple soccer fields for cooperative detainees — are far more questionable. The daily cost of food for each captive is $38.45, which is significantly higher than the average American citizen spends on their meals.

Guantanamo Bay’s seemingly endless funding comes in large part because it is considered an open-ended battlefield necessity, despite the fact that the last prisoner there arrived in 2008. This also contributes to the high costs; Guantanamo Bay guards get combat pay, despite not actually fighting. Additionally, Congress has repeatedly resisted calls to cut Guantanamo Bay’s funding.

Even the detention center’s former deputy commander, retired Army Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti, thinks it’s time to reconsider Guantanamo Bay’s costs. “It’s a slow-motion Berlin Airlift — that’s been going on for 10 years,” he said.

[Zanetti] has never disputed that America needed the detention center after 9/11 but argues that today it deserves a cost-benefit analysis.

“What complicates the overall command further is you have the lawyers, interrogators, and guards all operating under separate budgets and command structures,” he said. “It’s like combining the corporate cultures and budgets of Goldman, Apple, and Coke. Business schools would have a field day dissecting the structure of Guantánamo.”

Here’s a tip for the super-committee: Instead of searching for ways to cut Social Security, Medicaid, and other benefit programs, maybe they should look for ways to bring down Guantanamo Bay’s $139 million annual cost.

Or better, yet, maybe they should reconsider President Obama’s 2009 closure order and find a way to shut down Guantanamo Bay for good.


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