The Biden administration is taking steps towards closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, The Wall Street Journal reports.
For the first time, the administration has appointed a senior diplomat to oversee detainee transfers. The WSJ also reports that the administration “signaled it won’t interfere with plea negotiations that could resolve the long-stalled prosecution of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants.”
Biden has long stated his intention of closing the facility, which has housed prisoners captured as part of the Global War on Terrorism.
The prison — known formally as the Guantanamo Bay detention camp — was established by the George W. Bush administration in 2002 following the attacks of 9/11. Since that time, roughly 780 detainees have been held at the prison located in Cuba. Currently, 36 prisoners remain, according to The New York Times.
Almost since its opening, the prison has been a source of controversy, due to its condition and the treatment of prisoners located there.
“Since the Bush administration, there has been agreement among national security experts and across the political spectrum that the Guantánamo prison – a notorious site of torture and unjustifiable indefinite detention – should be closed,” said Daphne Eviatar, Director of the Security with Human Rights Program at Amnesty International USA.
During his time in the White House, President Obama called for shutting the prison down. Congress pushed back, responding to Obama’s efforts in 2010 by passing a ban on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.
The debate over closing the prison remains politically fraught. “The administration doesn’t want to look like it’s soft on terrorism and is awaiting a political consensus,” said Harvey Rishikof, a law professor who helped draft a recent report on closing the facility.
According to that report, the Guantanamo Bay prison costs $540 million a year to operate. That comes to $15 million per detainee, compared with about $78,000 a year for an inmate at the high-security U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ also reports that the Pentagon is moving ahead with building a third courtroom at Guantanamo Bay at a cost of $4 million, even though no additional trials are expected there.
“Obviously, if this were easy, four presidents, 20 years, we would have figured this out,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told a Senate committee in December.