Column: It’s time for the detention center at Guantanamo Bay to close

President Barack Obama opens the door for Vice President Joe Biden, center, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, after speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Obama announced Pentagon's long-awaited plan to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer the remaining detainees to a facility in the U.S. The plan is Obama's last-ditch effort to make good on campaign vow to close Guantanamo. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

It’s ridiculous that something like Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay – which President Obama promised to close within a year of being elected in his first term – is still holding detainees in the year 2016.

Recently, the Obama administration unveiled a plan to close the detention center at the infamous U.S. naval base on the coast of Cuba. The facility currently holds 91 detainees, about 35 of whom are considered eligible for transfer to other countries.

Naturally, his proposal was met with conservative opposition. McCain, a longtime proponent of closing Guantanamo, called the Obama administration’s plan “a wish list” with the eight-page proposal being “Seven pages…rehash and the last page…platitude.” The logic (or lack thereof) of keeping the detention center around aside, the “wish list” comment probably isn’t all that inaccurate: Obama has less than a year left in office, and he probably wants closure to things he said he would accomplish in his presidency just to tell himself and others that he was true to his word. It would be a symbolic pat on the back.

A handful of Republicans are up in arms about the prospect of bringing the ineligible-for-transfer detainees stateside, as it would violate a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that deems this practice illegal. Asked if he would support suing President Obama in the event he transfers detainees to United States prisons, McCain said, “Absolutely.”

Other conservatives, like presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are worried that Obama’s plan involves forfeiting the entire naval base back to Cuba in an attempt to forge relations with an “anti-American Communist dictatorship,” coinciding with the president’s plan to visit the country in March after decades of sour international relations. The Obama administration countered this by saying it only intends to close the detention center and isn’t interested in giving up the whole base.

The facility is an incredible waste of money, costing about $455 million to operate in 2015. The White House estimates that closing the institution would result in approximately $180 million in savings per year.

For conservatives concerned with big government spending, they should be fundamentally satisfied to be doling out $275 million instead. Moreover, Politico said House Republicans paid a retainer of $150,000 to Washington, D.C. law firm Jones Day for advising on matters related to the potential lawsuit for an NDAA violation.

Although the retainer money is peanuts compared to the cost of running Guantanamo, it is remarkable that in a House comprised of 37 percent lawyers, they could not find someone to give them minor counsel before a lawsuit has even happened; not very economical, and a poor use of taxpayer money.

It is unclear that the 55 or so terrorists unable to leave would pose a discernible threat if held in a U.S. maximum-security prison. If anything, there’s probably less chance of them escaping from a prison than if returned to ones in their home countries, but the gesture of bringing terrorists into the country is jarring for a party prone to national security scaremongering, in addition to the horrifying concept of (god forbid) conceding to the wishes of Obama.

Even former Bush II Secretary of State Colin Powell thinks Guantanamo doesn’t need to stay open, saying, “Do we really need to keep this place open for 50 remaining detainees who we can easily move to a secure facility in the United States?” If fellow experienced Republican administrators can see the futility of the detention center, maybe other leaders should take heed.

I’m not convinced that any of the terrorists currently held at Guantanamo are going to experience any modicum of freedom, regardless of where they are. So other than the NDAA statute – which could easily be amended if Congress wanted to – what is the problem here? Where is the terroristic threat? Because all I see are prisoners that aren’t going anywhere, a giant waste of money and a stain on the United States’ legacy that refuses to go away due to pointless congressional obstruction.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.