- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The White House insisted Wednesday that closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay will save taxpayers money, despite a Pentagon report that it will cost more to transfer and imprison some of the terrorism suspects in the U.S.

President Obama is pushing forward with his plans to close the facility in Cuba because “it’s not an effective or efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who estimated the facility costs about $400 million per year.

But the White House refused to confirm a report in The Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon has calculated the cost of closing Guantanamo at about $650 million — $350 million to build a new facility in the U.S. and operating costs of about $300 million annually. Mr. Obama reportedly rejected the proposal and asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to go back to the drawing board.

When the White House presents Congress with its long-awaited plan for closing Guantanamo, Mr. Earnest said, “people will have the opportunity to crunch the numbers for themselves.”

Congress passed a law again this year forbidding the administration from transferring any Gitmo detainees to the U.S.

House Armed Services Committed Chairman Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, said the military’s estimate for operating Guantanamo last year was $140 million annually, and said the Pentagon’s estimate of the costs is undermining one of the president’s main arguments for closing the facility.

“The president and his supporters have argued for years that closing [Gitmo] will make us safer and it will save us money,” Mr. Thornberry said. “No one really believes that bringing terrorists to our shores would make Americans any safer. Now we know that the president’s claims of saving us money aren’t true either.”

Mr. Thornberry said Mr. Obama was right to reject the Pentagon’s plan as too expensive, “but he was absolutely wrong to direct the Pentagon to cut corners and bring him a cheaper option.”

“If the President is determined to bring these terrorists to the United States, he can’t do it with cut-rate security,” Mr. Thornberry said. “He owes the troops who would guard these detainees, not to mention the Americans who suddenly find al Qaeda terrorists held in their backyards, far more.”

The White House is concerned that the high cost of the Pentagon’s internal review plan would face more opposition in Congress. The proposal covers the cost of setting up and operating separate holding facilities for as many as 90 detainees near existing federal prisons in the U.S.

Officials in Kansas, South Carolina and Colorado, which are under consideration for the facilities, oppose the administration moving detainees to their states.

The prison in Cuba was set up in early 2002 by the administration of President George W. Bush to hold terrorism suspects captured during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has been trying to close the facility since his first day in office, arguing that it serves as a potent recruiting tool for terrorist groups.

The president has reduced the Guantanamo detainee population from 241 to 107 since 2009, transferring many to their home countries, some of whom have returned to the battlefield. About 50 of the remaining prisoners are eligible for transfer; the rest are considered too dangerous to release.

Mr. Earnest said housing the more dangerous detainees in the U.S. “would be far cheaper, and would be a much better use of taxpayer dollars, considering that it would also take away a recruiting tool that is used by terrorists.”

He said opponents of transferring detainees to the U.S. “don’t account for the fact that there are already dozens of convicted terrorists in U.S. prisons on U.S. soil right now.”

“That doesn’t pose an undue threat to our national security,” he said, adding that Republicans including Mr. Bush, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice are among those who support closing Guantanamo.

“Among those who have devoted most of their lives to keeping the country safe, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you agree that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be a priority,” Mr. Earnest said. “And the only reason that it hasn’t gotten done so far is that members of Congress have blocked it.”

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