Power Wars Blog by Charlie Savage

Takeaways from my latest inside-the-Gitmo-closure-fight article

Here is my latest Gitmo story, surfacing the latest behind-the-scenes stuff on Obama’s fraught push to close Gitmo before he leaves office.

Among the takeaways:

  • Although Obama has twice said he wants the detainee population (currently 107) down to double digits by around the new year, there are currently no SecDef notices at Congress, so we’re at least 31 days away from any transfers
  • A country that had agreed to take two detainees is now threatening to walk away if there are any further delays
  • The fabled “plan” to close Gitmo that is being prepared for Congress (where many GOP critics of Obama falsely say he has had no plan, even though he’s had a plan since 2009 and the basics will not be any different from that one – the problem is people don’t like his plan, not that he doesn’t have one) is going to have much higher per-capita detainee costs than what has been suggested by the figures often cited by closure proponents – that it costs >$3 million per year to house a detainee at Gitmo, versus <$80,000 per year to house a terrorist in the Florence ADX “Supermax.” The reason is that these two figures are based on dividing the number of prisoners at each into a total cost that is not an apples-to-apples comparison. In particular, more than a quarter of Gitmo’s $400 million budget is the cost of the military commissions system, while the Bureau of Prison’s numbers for the Supermax does not include the cost of the civilian courts system.
  • Carter presented a draft plan to Obama in the Oval at 5 p.m. on Nov. 10, leading to discussion of ways to make the costs lower
  • The endgame strategy now is to drive down the number of detainees who would need to be brought in the United States, from the current 59 to a goal of less than half of that
  • One way to drive down the number of detainees is to speed up the work of the Periodic Review Board, which has been moving slowly in reviewing forever detainees but is converting a high number of those it has examined into transferrable detainees
    • Of the 18 forever detainees the board has reviewed since starting work in the fall of 2013, it decided 15 should now be transferred, if security conditions could be met in the receiving country – a conversion rate of 83%
    • 46 forever detainees have not yet been processed by the board
  • Another way to chip away at the numbers of future indefinite detainees is to send some to foreign courts for prosecution, like Hambali (2002 Bali bombings)
  • A third way is to strike plea deals with others, and several want to do so – but in Article III civilian court, not commissions.
    • Certain charges for vague terrorism-related offenses, like conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, are only available in civilian court, making more detainees prosecutable
    • Civilian court rules permit time already in custody to count toward a sentence
    • A convicted detainee could be extradited to his home country to serve out his sentence, or brought to a regular federal prison as a regular inmate, not the replacement wartime prison
    • A plea deal would avert the need for a trial in a federal courthouse on US soil, avoiding the security fears that derailed the proposed civilian trial for KSM and the other accused 9/11 conspirators
    • Certain things are tricky about this, like whether a judge could take a plea and impose a sentence by remote video link, with the detainee still in Gitmo