HL World News: 26 Facts About Guantanamo Bay

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Charles Dharapak / AP Images

In the fallout of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States entered a new age of warfare. The war on terror presented a nebulous threat with non-state actors and dangerous, asymmetrical warfare.

The Department of Defense faced the question of how the established laws of war applied to the new type of armed combatants. The 20th-century legal framework regarding armed conflict did not account for 21st-century international terrorism.

As a solution to these modern-day difficulties, a detention facility was created on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Founded in 1903, the naval station has been used for training and a variety of U.S. missions and operations. This strategically placed station in the Caribbean Sea became the center of international controversy as individuals were detained and processed by the Guantanamo military commissions.

These military commissions compensated for a lack of existing Geneva Conventions or U.S. guidelines on how to deal with those accused of war crimes in an undefined conflict. The legality and ethicality of the Guantanamo detention policies have been questioned since its creation. Despite clamors (and even an executive order) for its closure, this controversial and secretive facility continued operation under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

InsideGov compiled a list of 26 key facts and figures about the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Due to the secrecy of the program, much data on it isn’t conclusive. Since some sources contradict each other, we’ve noted where discrepancies exist. Key sources for our research include the New York Times’ project “The Guantanamo Docket” and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has advocated for the camp’s closure.


Brennan Linsley / AP Images

On Jan. 4, 2002, the U.S. Southern Command was directed to take custody of detainees and hold them at Guantanamo Bay. Detainees first arrived on Jan. 11, 2002. The base changed in the following months with the addition of more detainees and expanded facilities.

1 Refusal

Jose Goitia / AP Images

In January 2016, one Guantanamo detainee approved for resettlement refused to board the outgoing plane. Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir, detained since 2002, was reportedly “frightened” about leaving the facility.

3 Supreme Court Cases

Dennis Cook / AP Images

Three cases involving detainee rights have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court: Rasul v. Bush, Boumediene v. Bush (which included the habeas petition Al Odah v. United States) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. These cases addressed habeas corpus petitions, jurisdiction and also the constitutionality of the Guantanamo military commissions.

5 Prayer Times

Charles Dharapak / AP Images

Loudspeakers at the detention facility broadcast the traditional Muslim call to worship five times every day.

8 Percent al-Qaida Affiliated

Mazhar Ali Khan / AP Images

Eight percent of Guantanamo detainees were “characterized as al-Qaida fighters” in a Seton Hall report that analyzed 517 detainees.

9 Deaths

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Nine detainees have died in custody at Guantanamo Bay. In 2006, three detainees hanged themselves in their cells on the same day, leaving suicide notes written in Arabic.

9-Year Hunger Strike

Charles Dharapak / AP Images

Although many prisoners held at Guantanamo have participated in hunger strikes, Tariq Ba Odah stopped eating in February 2007 and was force-fed for nearly a decade. On April 16, 2016, he was transferred to Saudi Arabian custody.

15 Children

Massoud Hossaini / AFP / Getty Images

A report by UC Davis used information from Wikileaks documents to conclude that 15 Guantanamo detainees were captured as minors. In contrast, another Wikileaks report claimed there have been 22 individuals under the age of 18 detained at Guantanamo.

15 Years Old

The Canadian Press, Amanda McRoberts / AP Images

At 15 years old, Omar Khadr was the youngest detainee to come to Guantanamo Bay after being captured in Afghanistan. In 2012, he was transferred to Canadian custody and later granted bail.

46.8 Square Miles

AP Images

The United States leases 46.8 square miles of land and water at Guantanamo Bay. These rights originally came from the 1903 Platt Amendment, which resulted from the American occupation of Cuba that began during the Spanish-American War.

58 Countries

Guantanamo detainees have been transferred to 58 identifiable countries, according to the New York Times. Out of the 691 transfers, 10 have been transferred to an “undetermined country.”

80 Detainees

Brennan Linsley, Pool / AP Images

Eighty detainees are currently held at Guantanamo. The U.S. recently transferred nine detainees to Saudi Arabian custody on April 16, 2016. The majority of the remaining detainees are citizens of Yemen.

89 Years Old

Vincent Thian / AP Images

At the time of being taken into custody, Mohammed Sadiq was the oldest detainee at 89 years old. He was transferred to Afghanistan in October 2002.

111 Returned to Terrorist Activities

Brennan Linsley / AP Images

According to a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 111 detainees released under Bush reengaged in terrorist or insurgent activities. Another 74 detainees are “suspected of reengaging.” The report defines these activities as planning, conducting or financing terrorist operations.

158 Obama Transfers

Charles Dharapak / AP Images

Under President Obama, 158 detainees have been transferred, repatriated or resettled. In the first days of his presidency, Obama signed Executive Order 13492, which set a year deadline for closing the detention facility. This deadline passed due to coordination issues with the other branches of government and difficulties regarding transferring detainees.

242 Detainees

Charles Dharapak / AP Images

At the beginning of Obama’s presidency, there were 242 detainees left in the camp. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama stressed his goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He said: “It's time to better protect the American people and our values by bringing swift and sure justice to terrorists through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

532 Bush Transfers

Charles Dharapak / AP Images

The Bush administration transferred 532 detainees before January 2009. The peak of the Guantanamo detainee population occurred in 2002. In 2007, President Bush said: “It should be a goal of the nation to shut down Guantanamo.”

779 Total Detainees

There have been a total of 779 detainees held at the Guantanamo prison since its opening in 2002. Out of this population, 220 are citizens of Afghanistan.

2,000 U.S. Personnel

Andres Leighton / AP Images

There are about 2,000 troops and civilians stationed at Guantanamo to staff the prison. With 80 current detainees, this amounts to roughly 25 staff members to every one detainee held.

$4,085 Per Month

Jorge Rey, MediaPunch / AP Images

In order to lease the land at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. pays Cuba $4,085 each month. In 2007, former Cuban President Fidel Castro noted that Cuba, in protest of American occupation, has refused to cash the checks for decades.

$17,000 Flight

Jose Goitia / AP Images

In 2013, the Navy attempted to block commercial flights from the U.S. to the Guantanamo base. The alternative option for lawyers or family members seeking to visit the base would have been a $17,000 charter flight. This order was subsequently rescinded. IBC Air currently operates flights three times a week for less than $1,000 round trip.

$744,000 Soccer Field

Brennan Linsley / AP Images

The Guantanamo facilities include a 28,000-square-foot recreational space with a soccer field and gravel track, constructed in 2012. This project came with a $744,000 price tag, which was, according to Rear Admiral David Woods, mostly due to importing equipment to the base and lack of “opportunity to capitalize on the local economy.”

$2.7 Million Per Detainee

Brennan Linsley / AP Images

The cost of the Guantanamo Bay facilities amounted to roughly $2.7 million for each inmate in 2013, according to Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington. The ACLU said the 2013 figure is closer to $5 million per detainee. President Obama estimated a cost of approximately $900,000.

$35 Million Cable

Brennan Linsley / AP Images

The Department of Defense awarded a $35 million project to a Texas company to build a fiber-optic cable from Florida to the Guantanamo base. This would solve the internet shortages and upgrade telecommunications for the naval base.

$445 Million

Brennan Linsley / AP Images

The cost to operate Guantanamo in 2015 was approximately $445 million. The Department of Defense estimated that the Pentagon would save at least $140 million annually if the detainees were transferred to a facility on U.S. soil.

$5.242 Billion

The total cost of running the Guantanamo detainment facility up to the end of 2014 was calculated to be $5.242 billion. Put in perspective, this figure is higher than the estimated 2013 GDP of Bermuda.

Explore More Political Issues on InsideGov

Additional research by Spencer Baker

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