The Department of Defense and the Department of Justice together have more than enough prison space within the United States to safely and securely house the remaining 166 prisoners currently held in Guantanamo Bay, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report (PDF), commissioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), details a clear road map to accomplishing President Barack Obama’s longtime goal of shuttering the controversial military facility.
“This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security,” Feinstein explained in prepared text. “The GAO report makes clear that numerous prisons exist inside the United States—operated by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice—capable of holding the 166 detainees who remain at Guantanamo in an environment that meets the security requirements.”
Prisons detailed in the report include Navy brigs in South Carolina, Virginia and California, along with prisons in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and McChord, Washington. Taken altogether, these six military installation are only 48 percent full, and already housing inmates connected to terrorist plots and other dangerous criminals.
In addition, the report notes that as of August 2012 the Department of Justice was holding on U.S. soil a total of 377 inmates who’ve been charged with or convicted of terrorism. The GAO said that there are 98 different Justice Department prisons where Gitmo inmates could be secured.
The Guantanamo Bay military prison, opened by the Bush administration in 2002 to house so-called “war on terror” prisoners, found itself at the epicenter of international controversy as numerous former detainees accused their prison handlers of torture. Prisoners held in the facility have been kept there without the right to a fair and speedy trial, which many liberals and progressives objected to during those years. The volume of those concerns, however, was turned down significantly after President Obama took office and implemented strict policies forbidding interrogation methods frequently employed by the Bush administration’s torture program.
As a candidate for president, then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) vowed to shutter the facility and restore confidence that the U.S. courts can handle terrorism suspects. However, despite Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts to try terrorism suspects in the U.S., he was blocked by congressional Republicans who’ve sought to make the prison impossible to close.
“To say that high-risk detainees cannot be held securely in a maximum security prison is just plain wrong,” Feinstein added. “The United States already holds 373 individuals convicted of terrorism in 98 facilitates across the country. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single security problem reported in any of these cases. This fact outweighs not only the high cost of maintaining Guantanamo—which costs more than $114 million a year—but also provides the same degree of security without the criticism of operating a military prison in an isolated location.”
Photo: Flickr user takomabibelot, creative commons licensed.