Close Gitmo, the Entire Base

One of the strange controversies in Washington DC concerns the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay “Gitmo” in Cuba. Senator John McCain wants it closed. Bob Gates has wanted it closed ever since he became Defense Secretary back in the Bush years. Moreover, President Obama has promised to close the prison, yet this effort has been slowed by mysterious problems. Some of this opposition is a fear by the U.S. military establishment that the entire base may be closed.


Media stories focus only on the plan to disperse the 256 prisoners at Gitmo, and the U.S. Senate vote —by a 90-to-6 margin—to deny Obama the $80 million he sought to pay for closing down the prison. No one questioned why it costs $312,000 to fly EACH prisoner elsewhere. Closing the prison will actually save money, so the funding request and Senate vote are a mystery. Even most Senate Democrats voted against closing the prison, supposedly because Obama presented no detailed plan on where the prisoners will go.


The U.S. military has held these prisoners for years and already knows if evidence exists to bring formal charges against certain prisoners. Those will be flown to the USA and charged with terrorism, as the U.S. Government has done in hundreds of other terror cases. Some Congressmen oppose this common sense because they seem to think that Gitmo endows prisoners with supernatural powers that allow them to escape from maximum security prisons in the USA. Others worry that non-English speaking foreigners from Gitmo have magical powers that allow them to transform hardened American prisoners into terrorists.


If there is no evidence an Afghan prisoner engaged in terrorism, but may prove a danger to American troops, the U.S. military can transfer him to a POW camp in Afghanistan until the conflict subsides. Many prisoners at Gitmo were scooped up during the American invasion of Afghanistan and had nothing to do with terrorism or the Taliban. Most are Arabs who were snatched by local Afghans and turned over to the U.S. military for a reward, or were “captured” at roadblocks, detained for questioning, and sent to Gitmo in a rush to produce terror suspects.


The Bush administration freed hundreds of these innocent prisoners, and the Obama administration is keen on quickly releasing the remainder. This has become a diplomatic circus as some countries refuse to accept them, or prisoners fear arrest upon returning home. Small nations like Bermuda and Palau have accepted some, probably after promises of aid, while the future of the remainder are in limbo.


This is not a complex problem. Prisoners who were mistakenly captured in Afghanistan should be provided with a few thousand dollars in compensation and set free at the very spot they were captured. They should be provided with a pass in case they encounter American troops, and set free to resume whatever they were doing prior to their capture. If they want to return to their home country, that is their choice. Problem solved!


Nations such as Yemen refuse to accept prisoners they handed over to the USA. In such cases, the U.S. Navy can easily return prisoners by using a helicopter or small boat to drop them off in a remote coastal location near their home. They may face arrest, but setting them free at home is preferable to keeping them in an American prison indefinitely at taxpayer expense.


File:Guantanamo Bay Navy Exchange and BEQ.jpgMeanwhile, President Obama should order the closure of the entire naval base at Gitmo, not just the prison. One reason it was selected as a prison is because the base has no real mission. A former head of the U.S. Atlantic command, Marine Corps General John Sheehan, wanted it closed a decade ago. It supports 7500 Americans with all the personnel support amenities our modern Navy expects, including a school for the 331 children of sailors. It has a hospital, a church, a movie theater, recreation facilities, a McDonalds, and even a veterinarian clinic. No combat forces are based there, or even combat support forces. There are no ships, no aircraft, no weapons, nor munitions based at Gitmo.

Gitmo was established after the Spanish-American war because the U.S. military always builds bases in newly conquered areas. Its mission as America’s first foreign base was to serve as a “coaling station” where coal-powered ships could refuel. When longer-range oil-powered ships entered the fleet, a new mission was invented. The base watched for enemy fleets heading toward the Panama Canal. This was before aircraft and satellites, and when the USA controlled the canal.

The small ship maintenance activity at Gitmo was shut down in 1995 and the fleet training group moved to Florida that same year. Gitmo is now a rarely used airfield that was retained to irritate Castro. Relations with Cuba should normalize as Castro has retired and Obama has promised to ease trade barriers. Closing Gitmo is a good step, and one that will save the U.S. Navy millions of dollars a year and eliminate 3000 base personnel slots. Gitmo is expensive to operate since every support item must be shipped from the USA, and the base must generate its own electricity and produce its own fresh water. It is considered a hardship post since sailors are not allowed outside the gates. They could turn out the lights at Gitmo tomorrow and fly everyone home, and the rest of the Navy wouldn’t notice.

The only plausible element at Gitmo is a small “joint drug task force,” which is found at every U.S. military base in Latin America to help justify their dubious purpose. The Navy already has an air station at Key West, Florida for whatever Caribbean contingency arises, plus access to airfields in Puerto Rico and dozens of airfields at friendly nations in the region. Unfortunately, the U.S. military never closes a base voluntarily, even when they no longer serve a purpose. Someone should inform President Obama that he should order the closure of the entire base at Gitmo, for the good of the Navy and the nation.

                                                      Carlton Meyer


Overseas Base Closure List

Dec 2014 Update - New Dependent School Funded

While the fleet continues to shrink and the Gitmo prison closes, the Navy will spend $65 million of a new school at Gimto ($237,000 per pupil); several times more costly than stateside schools.