Do enemy combatants take checks?
How does cost affect where we should house suspected terrorists?
The Washington Post ran a detailed article today on the $500 million that has been invested in renovations at the Guantanamo Bay base that has housed many of the enemy combatants we’ve captured since the 9/11 attacks.
Among the more amusing expenditures:
The cost of the marquee, along with a smaller sign positioned near the airfield: $188,000. Among other odd legacies from war-on-terror spending since 2001 for the troops at Guantanamo Bay: an abandoned volleyball court for $249,000, an unused go-kart track for $296,000 and $3.5 million for 27 playgrounds that are often vacant.
It’s always easy to cherrypick seemingly useless expenses to show waste, although an abandoned go-kart track really does feel egregious. Also, I’m not sure playgrounds are as fun when you are cuffed and hooded. Or maybe slides and tunnels are a new “enhanced interrogation” technique. Ok, ok, enough bad one-liners.
The real concern is the disparity between Guantanamo’s $150 million annual operating cost and what it would likely cost to house these prisoners on U.S. soil. The Post cites a White House estimate that Guantanamo costs “double the amount for a comparable U.S. prison.”
There have been some interesting arguments about whether it would be appropriate to move suspected terrorists to a U.S.-based maximum-security prisons. The main debate was whether such a move would put American lives in danger.
But the spending issue adds a new and important perspective. There’s little question that safety arguments tend generally to trump waste arguments. If moving these prisoners to the continental U.S. really would significantly risk American lives, the best argument would be to show that keeping the prisoners in Guantanamo actually puts more lives at risk (or increased the risk level for the same number of lives).
If the risk is relatively low, the spending level (the Post estimates about $2 billion total) really does trade-off with other morally good things. Today’s Los Angeles Times reported that political pressures heading into the midterm elections have even many Democratic lawmakers leery about education and unemployment expenditures expected to be taken up by Congress.
If I were a father of four, I wouldn’t want Guantanamo-USA near my hometown. But if I’ve been unemployed for a year, I might need my unemployment check.
How should we choose?