Holder Asks for $90 Million to Close Gitmo

By Theresa Cook

May 7, 2009 12:14pm

ABC News’ Jason Ryan reports:  How much will it cost to carry out President Obama’s order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?  Depending on the Pentagon’s 2010 budget request, total costs for closing the base could exceed $200 million.

And while President Obama and White House officials rolled out the administration’s budget elsewhere in Washington, Holder faced tough questions from Senators from both parties on Capitol Hill.

Holder was asked about a 2009 request of $30 million for Justice Department activities on closing the controversial base. In addition to those funds, the Pentagon has also requested $50 million as part of the 2009 funding request for closing Gitmo. 

Sen. Barbra Mikulski, D-Md., asked him about the ongoing review of the detainees’ status, and questioned the Department’s request to allocate $30 million towards the shuttering of the controversial detention facility.

"That strikes the committee as an awful lot of money for bureaucracy,” she told Holder. 

"These are no ordinary task forces," Holder, who heads up the interagency team charged with carrying out the president’s order, said.

"We had to put in place a classified review process… We have tens of thousands of pages that have to be reviewed,” but there are only 80 attorneys to do that, he said.   Additionally, the task force has a need for other staff, such as paralegals, who hold high security clearances.

Holder also cited the need for classified computers, phones and other equipment, as well as costs for travel and lodging. In recent weeks, the task force has been provided office space at Justice Department headquarters in Washington as the work load increases.

After the hearing, DOJ rolled out its 2010 budget request, in which the Justice Department is estimating additional costs of $60 million to handle issues relating to detainees including transfers, continued detentions and possible releases. DOJ is putting this money aside as the task force works to determine the mechanics of closing the detention facility.

With the closure of the facility, the government will also need to relocate detainees, and some could come to the United States

At this morning’s hearing, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., expressed concern about that possibility, which has become a top issue for Holder and the Justice Department to handle.

"Transfer of release of these detainees will only happen if there is no impact on the communities that are receiving” them, Holder said, noting that the lawyers are reviewing them on a case-by-case basis.

"I spend every waking moment thinking about how I can protect the American people,” Holder said, noting that terrorists being held at Guantanamo would not be eligible for release into this country.

The United States has been engaged in a full court press to find countries that will take on detainees. "That’s what I was doing in Europe last week,” Holder said.  Additionally, “we are talking to our allies in the Middle East."

Yesterday, France signaled that it would accept Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian national whose case challenging his detention at Guantanamo made its way to the Supreme Court last year.  The German newspaper Der Spiegel also reported recently that Germany might agree to take a handful of Uyghur detainees who have been cleared for release for several years. 

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