CREDIT: The Washington Post
Two top Senate Democrats called on Congress and the Obama administration to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and laid out some preliminary steps to begin the process.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee and defense appropriations subcommittee, respectively, noted that it costs American taxpayers nearly $500 million a year ($2.7 million per detainee) to keep the prison open.
“This is a massive misuse of taxpayer money,” they wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Wednesday. “Consider this: It costs $78,000 to hold a convicted terrorist in the most secure federal prison in the United States, Supermax in Colorado. With the sequester stretching budgets and Defense Department employees under furloughs, the U.S. is spending, per Guantanamo detainee, roughly 35 times the amount it spends at Supermax detaining a convicted terrorist.”
Noting that the prison has also “devastated our reputation as a champion of human rights, weakened our international partnerships and remains a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists,” the two senators said detainees already cleared for release should be transferred and others should have their detention reviewed:
First, Congress and the administration should expedite efforts to transfer the 86 detainees already cleared for transfer. This includes 30 non-Yemeni prisoners and 56 Yemenis. The president should exercise his authority to transfer the non-Yemeni detainees to other countries, where they could remain in custody. The 56 Yemenis could be sent to Yemen or Saudi Arabia, where those governments could hold them so they do not attack the U.S. or our allies.
The administration should finally begin the long-promised periodic review board hearings to evaluate the more than 70 detainees who have not been cleared for transfer. The board must permit detainees to challenge their continued detention, and over time, those who do not pose a threat should be transferred to other countries. The White House has submitted an outline of a plan for closing Guantanamo that stated that “the first two detainees receiving PRB hearings have been notified.” This is a positive step that we hope means the first hearings will start this month.
The hunger strike at Guantanamo continues to wane after a majority of detainees ended their protest during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The military said on Wednesday that 50 detainees are on hunger strike, down from a peak of 106 just before Ramadan, and 37 are on a list to be force-fed through a tube, down from a high of 46.
In other news:
Alan Duncan, the British official responsible for aid to the Middle East and North Africa, told the Financial Times that “Of all the issues I’ve ever seen in the Middle East,” Syria “appears to be the most insoluble and intractable.”
The Washington Post reports: Secretary of State John F. Kerry indicated Tuesday that West Bank construction plans announced by Israel this week do not violate agreements made before the launch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and said he expects the two sides to meet Wednesday as scheduled.
Reuters reports: The United States should hold confidential direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program but the West should not expect Iran’s moderate new president to offer major concessions, a prominent think-tank said on Tuesday.