By Jeremy Herb - 07/24/13 06:55 PM EDT
The cost to run the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in 2013 is $454 million — a figure significantly higher than previous estimates, according to a new Pentagon assessment.
The newest price tag, which was sent to the House Armed Services Committee by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, will fuel Democratic arguments that Guantánamo is too expensive to continue holding detainees.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced the new cost assessment at a Senate hearing to examine closing the prison, held to ramp up congressional support for shuttering the facility.
“This is a massive waste of money,” Feinstein said.
The assessment, obtained by The Hill, said that the U.S. government has spent $4.7 billion to run the prison since 2002.
Smith and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) appeared in the upper chamber Wednesday to testify at the Senate's Guantánamo hearing.
Wednesday’s Judiciary subcommittee hearing, chaired by Durbin, is the first congressional hearing on closing the prison since 2009, when President Obama first pledged to close Guantánamo.
Obama vowed to revamp White House efforts to close the facility this year, and said he would resume detainee transfers to third countries.
But there remains congressional opposition to moving detainees out of the facility, and there have been multiple votes this year where lawmakers voted to prevent moving detainees onto U.S. soil or to Yemen, one of the countries where Obama wants to restart transfers.
Both Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Feinstein joined Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing to express their opposition to keeping the prison open.
“For over a decade, the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo has contradicted our most basic principles of justice, degraded our international standing and, by itself, has harmed our national security,” Leahy said. “It is shameful that we are still debating this issue.”
Hitting on the cost issue, Durbin said that it would be much cheaper to hold Guantánamo prisoners in a federal supermax prison, saying the cost was $78,000 per prisoner at a supermax facility compared to $2.7 million per detainee at Guantánamo.
"This would be fiscally irresponsible during normal economic times, but it is even worse when the Defense Department is struggling to deal with the impact of sequestration," Durbin said in his opening statement.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking member on the Judiciary subcommittee, defended Guantánamo, saying there was no alternative for keeping the terrorists who are held there.
“Until we are presented with a good viable strategy for what to do with terrorists who would work night and day to murder innocent Americans, I have a hard time seeing how it is responsible to shut down our detention facilities and send these individuals home, where they almost surely would be released and almost surely would return to threaten and kill more Americans,” Cruz said.