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President Barack Obama on CNN's "State of the Union" Dec. 21, 2014. President Barack Obama on CNN's "State of the Union" Dec. 21, 2014.

President Barack Obama on CNN's "State of the Union" Dec. 21, 2014.

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll December 21, 2014

Obama: 'We're spending millions for each individual' held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed within a year.

But it remains open nearly six years later, largely because of a difficulties figuring out what to do with the detainees who remain there.

On CNN’s State of the Union Dec. 21, 2014, host Candy Crowley asked Obama if the detention facility will be closed by the end of 2015.

"I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it," Obama said. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there."

We wondered: Are American taxpayers spending millions of dollars per year for every detainee held in Cuba?

In 2002, the United States established a detention camp on the 45-acre naval base on Cuba’s south east coast to hold suspects in the war on terror. More than 750 people have been detained in total over the past 13 years, with 132 current detainees. About 2,100 people work there. So how much does it cost?

For fiscal year 2014, the total cost of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is $397 million, according to a Department of Defense report drafted for the Senate Intelligence Committee. This includes money spent on maintenance, personnel, contracted work, military commissions and Department of Defense-funded studies.

Spread out among the 155 people detained over the course of 2014, that’s about $2.6 million per detainee.

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In 2013, with a similar-size budget but more detainees, the cost worked out to about $2.7 million per detainee.

For comparison, inmates at high-security federal prisons cost about $34,000 per year on average, as of 2012.

Part of the reason holding detainees at Guantanamo is so much more expensive than other prisons might be transportation costs, said Madeline Morris, a law professor and director of Duke University’s Guantanamo Defense Clinic. Most people, food and supplies have to be brought in by air, which is an enormous cost.

The number of detainees is going down, but the facility may face extra costs in the future. In August 2014, the New York Times reported that an estimated $200 million in maintenance will be necessary in coming years to keep the detention facility functioning. The infrastructure was originally built to be temporary.

One aspect of Guantanamo that doesn’t cost very much is the land. In 1903, then-President Theodore Roosevelt secured the area from Cuba for $2,000 a year, paid in gold -- worth about $4,085 today. The American government continues to pay the rent each year, but the Cuban government reportedly refuses to cash the checks.

Our ruling

Obama said, "We’re spending millions for each individual" detained at Guantanamo.

The Pentagon has reported that Guantanamo’s cost comes down to about $3 million per detainee per year -- just under 100 times the average annual cost of a federal prisoner. We rate Obama’s claim True.

Editor's note: After this item was published, the Pentagon provided additional information showing Guantanamo's actual costs for 2014, whereas the article previously cited projections. The article has been updated to reflect the new information, which does not affect the ruling.

Our Sources

CNN, "Obama: Gitmo inspires jihadists," Dec. 21, 2014

Pentagon, breakdown of costs associated with Guantanamo Bay detention facility, June 27, 2013

Pentagon, breakdown of costs associated with Guantanamo Bay, Dec. 1, 2014

Senate Judiciary Committee, Testimony of Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wa., July 24, 2013

Federal Prison System, per capita costs, fiscal year 2012

Reuters, "U.S. lawmakers blast Guantanamo's $2.7 million per prisoner cost," July 24, 2013

The Hill, "DOD: Gitmo costs in 2013 to top $450M," July 24, 2013

New York Times, "The Future of Guantanamo," Aug. 31, 2014

New Yorker, "A useful corner of the world: Guantanamo," July 30, 2013

New Republic, "Guantánamo Bay Is Crumbling Into Ruins," Sept. 21, 2014

CNN, "Guantanamo Bay Naval Station Fast Facts," Dec. 9, 2014

NPR, "The Military Base at Guantanamo Bay: A Timeline," June 27, 2005

Phone and email interviews, LTC Myles Caggins, Department of Defense spokesman, Dec. 21, 2014

Email interview, Madeline Morris, Duke University law professor, Dec. 21, 2014

Email interview, Karen Greenberg, Fordham University law professor, Dec. 21, 2014

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Obama: 'We're spending millions for each individual' held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

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