Inside the Pentagon Plan for Closing Guantanamo Detention Center

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The Obama Administration's plan for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which he presented to Congress today, anticipates that between 30 and 60 detainees could be transferred to a detention facility in the United States later this year. But moving those detainees from Cuba is not allowed under existing law and it is unclear how receptive Congress will be to changing the law in a presidential election year.

The plan laid out by the administration provides four main elements that are consistent with President Obama's goals of closing the facility at Guantanamo that houses 91 detainees.

They include continuing to transfer detainees cleared for release to other countries, periodic review boards to assess whether a detainee continues to pose a threat, possible prosecution, and working with Congress on a location in the continental United States that could house the detainees who cannot be released.

The administration has disclosed for the first time that it is planning for between 30 and 60 detainees to be housed at a detention facility in the United States.

How Much Will It All Cost?

The plan presented to Congress estimates that the operating costs of maintaining a facility in the United States would be between $140 and $180 million less a year, significant savings from the $445 million now spent yearly to house 91 detainees. Most of the savings would come from a decrease in the number of U.S. personnel necessary to guard and care for a smaller detainee population, as well as other reductions in operations and facility costs.

The plan estimates that keeping a smaller detainee population at Guantanamo would reduce costs but would be between $65 and $85 million more a year than at a U.S. facility because of higher personnel and operating costs at the base in Cuba.

The cost of moving the detainees to a U.S. facility will come with a one-time transition cost of between $290 and $475 million, though those costs would be offset in three to five years by the lower operating costs.

Civilian and Military Locations in the United States

The Pentagon looked at 13 possible locations last fall, seven of which were disclosed by the Pentagon prior to site surveys at military prison and civilian prison facilities (both federal and state) in Kansas, South Carolina and Colorado.

As part of its plan, the Pentagon considered the feasibility of using existing prison facilities to be operated by the military or constructing a new facility at a military base.

Assessment teams determined that maintaining a single facility to house the remaining detainees “was the most efficient course of action,” instead of splitting them among several facilities

If a civilian prison facility is chosen to house the detainees, it would be operated by the U.S. military. Administration officials say the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) provides the legal authority to keep a detainee in the United States until the end of hostilities and then transfer them out of the country.

Detainees relocated to U.S. soil would not have legal relief under immigration laws and, historically, U.S. courts have determined that detainees held in the United States under the law of war are outside the reach of immigration laws.

How Many Detainees Could Come to the United States Under the Plan?

At its peak, the detention facility at Guantanamo housed more than 800 detainees. The Bush administration ultimately transferred more than 500 out of Guantanamo and 147 have been transferred out under the Obama administration.

There are 91 detainees still at Guantanamo, with 35 of them cleared for transfer to other countries. Senior administration officials told reporters today on a White House conference call that they anticipate that the 35 detainees will be transferred out in coming months.

Of the remaining 56, some will receive periodic review boards that could mean they, too, could be possibly transferred. Ten are being prosecuted by military commissions, and another 22 will be referred to prosecution.

Even if they are transferred to the United States, those eligible would continue to receive periodic review boards, meaning some might be transferred to other countries if they are deemed to no longer be threats.