The Cost of Guantanamo Bay

I have made a lot of videos that are pro-America, pro-democracy, and pro-free markets. But I am not above giving criticism to America where it is deserved. In this video, I am going to talk about one of America’s biggest mistakes, Guantanamo Bay. WATCH NOW





New York Times:


United Nations Press Release:


As an accountant, one of the first things I look at is cost. To understand the impact of something, you need to understand how much it is costing you. So how much does it cost, for the United States to operate Guantanamo Bay? In 2019, the New York Times reported the US was spending $500M per year to operate Guantanamo Bay. Today it is around $540M. That is $13M per prisoner. To put this into perspective, the cost to house a US prisoner in the most secure “supermax” prison in the US, it costs $78,000 per year. It is not even close. Stay to the end of the video where I explain why this number is so important.

There is a reason I am making this video now. Two months ago, we hit the 20 year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay. This is a time we need to be evaluating whether this is working.

I will share with you my opinion. I have been opposed to Guantanamo Bay from day 1. I was horrified when they first opened it. It is a violation of everything we are supposed to stand for as Americans on basic human rights. We have picked up people around the world, torturing them using waterboarding, and are holding them illegally in prison without charges and without due process. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for these crimes against humanity. President George W. Bush opened it. President Obama specifically promised during his campaign that he would close it. He lied. He kept it open. President Trump did not close it. President Biden has not closed it. It has been twenty years, and it is still open. The crazy thing is, it would be so easy to close it. There are a lot of supporters of Guantanamo Bay saying it would be difficult. No, it is not. All it takes is an executive order from the President. One signature and the facility is closed.

This is a blemish on our reputation. Especially at this time, when Russia is at war with Ukraine in a fight between democracy and tyranny, the US needs to stand for human rights as a contrast to Russia. If we look at China’s forced labor camps, how can we criticize China when we are operating Guantanamo Bay? On the 20 year anniversary, the United Nations released a press release accusing the US of “unrelenting human rights violations.” We are being told by the world that what we are doing is wrong.

Let us go back to the rationale behind why Guantanamo Bay was opened. The 9/11 attacks happened in the US, and we started the war against terrorism. The US invaded Iraq and then Afghanistan. In this conflict, the US captured a number of enemy soldiers that were not claimed by any nation. People captured during war are supposed to be treated as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Convention. The US argued that did not apply in this situation. We just started imprisoning people without charges or due process. Sometimes after torturing them.

Why are these human rights so important? There is a very famous book called “The Count of Monte Cristo” written in France in 1844. The main character in the story is wrongfully imprisoned when some of his friends become jealous of his success and his beautiful girlfriend. They wrongfully accuse him of treason against the government, he is sent off to jail so they can take his fortune and his girlfriend. He is imprisoned on the accusations when he did nothing wrong. What if that same thing happened to someone who has been sitting in Guantanamo Bay for the last 20 years? Since they have not had a fair trial, we will never know. Someone with a gripe against them, could have accused them of being a terrorist and how would we know?

This sets such a dangerous precedent. Do we really want the government to be operating a facility like this? If you say something against the government, and they deem you as a “dangerous” person, what is to stop them from picking you up in the middle of the night and disappearing you to Guantanamo Bay where you have no rights? Let’s say Donald Trump gets elected President again. Donald Trump does not like Nancy Pelosi very much. What is to stop him from sending the secret service to pick up Nancy Pelosi and sending her to Guantanamo Bay? Now you might say, Zach, that is illegal. There are laws in place to prevent that from happening. But isn’t that the whole point? The whole thing is illegal? There is no laws about any of this. We should not be doing it to anybody.

We were told this was a necessary evil, because the people being held were so bad, we could not afford to release them. But this was revealed to be false. Here is a memo that was written by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush when the prison was open. In the memo, he is directing the joint chiefs of staff “We need to stop populating Guantanamo Bay with low-level enemy combatants… [It is] not a prison for Afghanistan.” This was written at the same time he was telling the American people, the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were the worst offenders. But it turns out, some of them were low-level people they picked up during the war in Afghanistan. Not only is it unjust, it is not accomplishing anything, and the politicians are lying about it to the American people.

Now there may be an argument, that we needed to protect the lives or our US soldiers. We had soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, and if we released these people, they would go back and kill those soldiers. By keeping these people in prison, we were saving US soldiers’ lives. But we do not have any soldiers in Afghanistan anymore. The US left. The Taliban is now running Afghanistan. So why are we still holding these people? There are 39 men left in Guantanamo Bay who have been held for 20 years. We were wrong to hold them in the first place. In my opinion, we should drop them off in Afghanistan, and close the prison.

There is another argument, that Guantanamo Bay prevents future terrorist attacks in the US. I find this argument lacking. If anything, the fact the US operates an illegal prison only fuels the anger of terrorists against the US. A more effective way would be to police the borders and keep terrorists out of the country in the first place. I think any argument that Guantanamo Bay is preventing attacks on US soil is weak.

Throughout the prison’s history the US has imprisoned nearly 800 people at Guantanamo Bay. I am willing to bet that at least some of them, were innocent. Just imagine, if you were picked up from your home one day, taken to a prison, tortured, not charged with any crime, not able to prove your innocence, no due process, and then held for 20 years. I am betting you would find it deeply unfair. Any way you look at it, what we are doing at Guantanamo Bay is deeply immoral.

Now I know, some of these people may be related to the horrible events of 9/11. And if they are, they should be brought to justice. But if that is the case, arrest them, present your evidence, and convict them in a court of law. If you don’t have any evidence, maybe they didn’t do it. You cannot just hold someone in prison because you feel like it. We decided that a long time ago when we founded the United States of America. You are innocent until proven guilty.

Let us go back to cost. We are paying over $500M per year to operate Guantanamo Bay. Why is this amount important? In government accounting, this is a recurring cost. It is something we have to pay for every single year going into the future. In comparison, a one-time cost has a limited impact in one year. So if we close the prison, it has a huge impact on the budget. Let us look at the budget.

In 2021, the US budget deficit was $2.8T. This means we are spending more money than the government raises in taxes. This is mostly funded by issuing government debt. We are losing enormous amounts of money every single year. If this continues, the US will be in big trouble. The FY21 Financial Report is issued by the US Treasury and signed by Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury. In this report, it raises concerns over the growing US debt. Recently, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US has taken out an enormous amount of new debt. The report shows this by looking at the debt-to-GDP ratio which was about 100 percent at the end of FY 2021. So the US is holding as much debt as the amount of goods and services we produce each year. The report states, “The projected continuous rise of the debt-to-GDP ratio indicates that current policy is unsustainable.”

Here is a chart that shows the US debt-to-GDP since 1940. You can see that on the long-term, the average debt-to-GDP ratio is 49%. Normally, it remains quite low. The last time it spiked so high was during WWII. The US is going to have to find another war quick, because we are at war time levels once again.

The point is that the current state is unsustainable. This has to change. Either the US raises taxes on the wealthy, we cut costs, or a combination of both. We have to cut costs.

So here we have Guantanamo Bay. If the President wanted to, he could close it today. It is an immediate savings of $500M per year. Remember, our current budget deficit is 2.8T. This one change would plug a huge portion of the budget deficit. Not only is this prison wrong, we cannot afford it. Even if we did not let the prisoners go, if we just transferred them to US prisons, the total cost is $78,000 per year. With 39 prisoners, that is roughly $3M. As a taxpayer, consider these two choices. One costs $500M and the other costs $3M. What are we doing?

I think the answer is clear. Given current world events, given the US financial situation, given the moral obligation we have to promote human rights, we must close Guantanamo Bay and we must do it now.

Leave a comment down below letting me know what you think!

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