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Tuesday 22 October 2019

Pentagon seeks £300m for Guantanamo

The detention facility on Guantanamo Bay currently holds 166 prisoners (AP/Brennan Linsley)
The detention facility on Guantanamo Bay currently holds 166 prisoners (AP/Brennan Linsley)

The Pentagon is asking for nearly £300 million - 450 million dollars - to maintain and upgrade the Guantanamo Bay prison that President Barack Obama wants to close.

New details on the administration's budget request have underscored the contradiction of the president waging a political fight to shut the US jail in Cuba while the military calculates the financial needs to keep the installation operating.

The budget request for the financial year beginning October 1 calls for 79 million dollars for detention operations, the same as the current year, and 20.5 million dollars for the office of military commissions, an increase over the current amount of 12.6 million. The request also includes 40 million dollars for a fibre optic cable and 99 million for operation and maintenance.

The Pentagon also wants 200 million dollars for military construction to upgrade temporary facilities. That could take eight to 10 years as the military has to transport workers to the island, rely on limited housing and fly in building material.

The jail at the US naval base currently holds 166 prisoners, and hunger strikes by 100 of them over their indefinite detention and prison conditions prompted Mr Obama to renew his effort to close Guantanamo. The President is expected to discuss the future of the facility in a speech on counter-terrorism.

"Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Mr Obama 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 co-operation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."

Since his inauguration in January 2009, Mr Obama has pushed for shutting the prison, signing an executive order for closure during his first week in office. He has faced resistance in congress with Republicans and some Democrats repeatedly blocking efforts to transfer terror suspects to the United States.

The law that congress passed and Mr Obama signed in March to keep the government running includes a long-standing provision that forbids any money for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States or its territories. It also bars spending to overhaul any US facility in America to house detainees.

That makes it essentially illegal for the government to transfer the men it wants to continue holding, including five who were charged before a military tribunal with orchestrating the September 11 2001 attacks.

Politicians have cited statistics on terror suspects striking again and argued that Mr Obama has failed to produce a viable alternative to Guantanamo. Some members of Congress counter that US maximum security prisons currently hold convicted terrorists and can handle such suspects. Among those in US prisons is Zacarias Moussaoui, who planned the 9/11 attacks.

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