Pentagon wants more than $450 mn for Gitmo amidst swelling hunger strike

The Pentagon is requesting more than $450 from lawmakers for maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo Bay camp. The request comes as an intensifying hunger strike is ratcheting up pressure on President Barack Obama to push for the prison’s closure.

The budget request for the fiscal year beginning October 1 has
called for $79 million for detention operations, the same as the
current year. An additional $20.5 million has been requested for
the office of military commissions, the military tribunals set up
in 2006 for prosecuting detainees. The current price tag on the
Guantanamo military commission is $12.6 million. A further $40
million is needed for a fiber optic cable and $99 million for
operation and maintenance of the facilities.

The Pentagon is also mulling over a request from the Southern
Command to spend about $200 million for renovating the camp, which
will include the construction of a new prison building for “high
value” detainees, as well as a new dining hall, barracks for prison
guards, a hospital, a “legal meeting complex” and a “communications
network facility” to store data.

The increased budget request comes in stark contrast to
President Obama’s recent push to shutter the facility, where 103
out of the camp’s 166 detainees have been carrying out an
unprecedented hunger strike for more than 100 days. Human rights
advocates have placed the number of hunger strikers as high as

Thirty of the hunger strikers are being force-fed through a
nasal tube — a practice which the UN human rights office condemned
as “torture” and a breach of international law. Three have been
sent to the detainee hospital for observation. Lawyers for
Guantanamo inmates have also claimed that prisoners who wish to
talk to their legal representatives are being subjected to
humiliating new cavity searches.

The 166 prisoners have been detained for eleven and a half
years, the vast majority of them have not been charged with a
crime, and 86 of them have been cleared for release.

The detention facility already ranks as one of the most
expensive in the world, costing over $900,000 annually per
prisoner. With 166 detainees, Gitmo consumes over $150
million each year.

Obama is expected to make a major speech on Thursday at National
Defense University, where he will outline his latest plan to close
the detention facility, as well as his administration’s drone
policy, targeted killing and the war against al Qaeda.

The president’s new push to shut down Guantanamo comes after
Congress blocked attempts to close Guantanamo during his first term
in office, when Obama signed a 2009 executive order calling for the
camp’s closure.

“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” the
president said at a White House news conference last month. “It
is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our
international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on
counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists.
It needs to be closed.”

However, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations
Act, 2013, the law that Congress passed and Obama signed in March
to stem the possibility of a federal government shutdown, prohibits
any additional funds for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to
the United States or its territories. It further blocks any
expenditures on the renovation of any US facility on American soil
to house detainees, effectively making it illegal for the
government to transfer the men it plans to continue holding.

It also remains unclear how Obama will win over both Republicans
and members of his own party who remain staunchly opposed to
transferring terror suspects to the US.

While lawmakers have cited recidivism of released terror
suspects as a reason to keep the camp open, in 2009 the Pentagon
was only able to “confirm” that 18 former detainees — 4 percent of
the camp’s population — had participated in attacks. A spokesman at
the time said evidence of someone being “confirmed” could
have included fingerprints, a conclusive photograph or
“well-corroborated intelligence reporting.”

Another issue involves the camp’s 86 detainees who have never
been charged with a crime and have already been cleared for

Earlier this month, Democratic Senator Carl Levin wrote a letter
to the White House requesting that the White House appoint an
official who will be tasked with relocating the dozens of detainees
who were being held without charge.

Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, said that
although the defense authorization bill has restricted the
administration’s ability to transfer detainees, a national security
waiver provided a “clear route” to moving detainees to some
third countries. Levin further urged Obama to find a way to close
the camp without Congress’ blessing.

“Congress has blocked it, so he’s going to have to find a way
to remove the blockages of Congress, and hopefully he’ll let us
know how he’ll do that,” 
Levin told reporters

Levin told The Hill on Tuesday that he has yet to receive a
response to his letter.

Democratic representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) questioned in an
interview if the growing international outcry surrounding the
hunger strike was enough to persuade resistant lawmakers to change
their position on keeping the camp open.

“It’s getting uglier and uglier at Gitmo…The level of
embarrassment is growing and the cost is growing, so is that enough
to persuade them that it’s time to change positions?”

“We’re going to have that debate.”

This article originally appeared on : RT