The news didn’t make much of a headline, but the Biden administration announced two weeks ago that it was… another prisoner transferred from Guantanamo Bay Prison, reducing the total number of inmates at the facility to 36.
It was against this background that The Hill reported on renewed democratic efforts to close the prison, which have great opportunity.
In the past month, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced legislation to close the facility in Cuba as part of a larger annual defense spending bill. † But in the Senate, where Democrats need GOP backing to pass the defense financing bill, the move faces a wall of opposition from Republicans.
“I’m sure it’s not going to happen,” Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill. Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, used nearly identical wording while making the same prediction.
Rep. Kay Granger, top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, added“These detainees are the worst of the worst, and we need assurances that they will never be moved to the United States.”
As far as reality makes sense, Granger’s argument goes completely wrong: Detainees were not sent to Guantanamo because they are the ‘worst of the worst’; they were sent there because the Bush/Cheney administration wanted to detain the suspects outside the US legal system without trial.
As for moving to the United States, American prisons on American soil already hold many terrorists. The inmates in the facility often known as “Gitmo” have no superpowers. Our prisons have proven to be more than capable of incarcerating the ‘worst of the worst’.
What is especially disheartening is how little the policy debate has progressed over the past decade.
Updating our previous Coverage, the prison population peaked in 2003 at 680 inmates. The Bush/Cheney administration began moving inmates in its second term, and by the time Barack Obama took office, the population had fallen to 242 inmates.
In 2009 and 2010, Congress effectively made it impossible for the Democrat to close the facility altogether, but Obama successfully reduced the prison population from 242 to 41.
“As president, I’ve tried to shut down Guantanamo,” Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders on his last full day in office. “When I inherited this challenge, it was widely recognized that the facility – which many around the world continue to condemn – had to close. Unfortunately, what used to be bipartisan support for closure suddenly became a partisan issue. Despite those policies, we have made progress.”
The goal of the advance was, of course, to reduce the overall population, but it was also intended to appeal to Republicans’ sense of financial health: the smaller the number of inmates, the harder it becomes to pay the huge costs. of keeping a detention center open where so few people live.
Even if Congressional Republicans tend to ignore every other consideration, the hope has long been that GOP lawmakers would at least care about wasteful spending: It’s costing American taxpayers about $13 million per prisoner, per year.
For his part, Donald Trump promised voters he would reverse the progress and tell the public in 2016, citing Guantanamo Bay prison, “We’re going to load it up with some bad guys, trust me, we’re going to load it.”
As was the case with so many Republican promises, none of this reflected reality. On his first day in office, the number of inmates had fallen to 41. On Trump’s last day in office, the prison had just been 40 prisoners†
And now that total has dropped to 36.
About a month after Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, the White House announced plans to close the prison once and for all, with the Departments of Defense, State and Justice planning to work with the White House National Security Council to achieve the goal.
The latest developments suggest that officials have made some progress, but given Republicans’ inflexibility, lowering the number from 36 to zero will remain a difficult challenge for the administration.