Leahy: Gitmo is ‘shameful’

Anne Wernikoff

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged the Senate on Thursday to allow the Obama administration to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

The Senate is expected to begin work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) next week. Leahy said that bill includes “common-sense” changes that phase out the use of the terrorist holding facility.

“The bottom line is Guantanamo hurts us, it does not help us. It does not make us safer,” Leahy said on the Senate floor. “The facility continues to serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists.”

Leahy said he expected defense hawks to offer an amendment that would force the administration to keep Gitmo open, as Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) did last year. 

“It’s shameful we’re still debating this issue,” Leahy said. “Guantanamo has undermined our efforts to be a champion of human rights. ... We are a better people than that.”

Closing Gitmo was one of President Obama’s campaign promises. The administration wants to transfer some of the prisoner to other countries, and some who have yet to stand trial would be transferred to U.S. federal prisons.

Leahy said if the human rights argument wasn’t enough to convince Republicans, they should consider the cost of maintaining the prison.

“Most Americans would be surprised to hear how much it cost,” Leahy said. “It cost $450 million a year to house 164 individuals. We’re spending $2.7 million per detainee.”

Leahy said in comparison it costs only $80,000 to keep a prisoner in the most secure federal facilities. He said the “waste has to end” because the money could be better spent on school lunch programs for poor children or housing for homeless veterans.