7 things you should know about Guantanamo Bay prison

Agence France-Presse
A group of detainees kneels during an early morning Islamic prayer in their camp at the US military prison for 'enemy combatants' on October 28, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 
John Moore

President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled a much-anticipated Pentagon roadmap aimed at finally closing Guantanamo Bay. Here are the key facts on the controversial military prison:


The Guantanamo Bay military prison was opened in January 2002 on a US Naval base on a coastal spit of land in southeastern Cuba, leased from Havana under a treaty dating back to 1903.

It was set up after the September 11, 2001 attacks under the administration of then-president George W. Bush to deal with prisoners who were termed "enemy combatants" and denied many US legal rights.

Obama has pushed for Guantanamo's closure since taking office in 2009, but his efforts have been thwarted by Republican lawmakers, many of whom see it as a useful tool in combating terror. Obama says the opposite is true, and that the facility feeds into anti-US, jihadist propaganda.

The US leader has also faced opposition from within his own administration, with the Pentagon accused of slow-pedaling transfers and overstating closure costs.

91 remaining inmates 

Currently, 91 inmates remain in Guantanamo; the facility has housed about 780 detainees since the start of 2002.

Of the remaining inmates, 35 have been "approved for transfer," meaning they can be released to another country willing to take them, assuming certain security and rehabilitation guarantees can be met.

The rest are divided into different legal categories but face ongoing, indefinite detention. Only 10 of them currently face criminal charges.

Possible US sites

The Pentagon has privately identified 13 venues in the United States to possibly house the remaining inmates. Officials have previously listed the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Leavenworth in Kansas; and a federal prison complex in Florence, Colorado as sites under consideration.

The Colorado prison comprises medium, maximum and supermax facilities. The Pentagon also considered a state prison in Colorado's Canon City.

Notorious inmates

Guantanamo houses five accused plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Among them is the self-proclaimed mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Its inmates also include the man accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. He was captured in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.

All six face the death penalty if convicted.

Costly prison

Guantanamo costs the US taxpayer around $455 million annually. The Pentagon said a US site would reduce that amount by up to $180 million.

Most of the savings would come from a decrease in the number of troops guarding the reduced population on the US mainland, but it could cost as much as $475 million in one-time expenses to move the men and build or update a facility to hold them.

"However, within three to five years the lower operating costs of a US facility with fewer detainees... could fully offset these transition costs," the closure plan notes.

'Enteral feeding'

Among the controversies to emerge from Guantanamo was the practice of force-feeding inmates on hunger strike. The military has defended the practice as a necessary medical treatment, but critics likened it to torture.

Dubbed "enteral feeding" in military parlance, the process involves inserting a tube up an inmate's nose and into his stomach, then pumping in liquid nutrient.


The US keeps a "very close eye" on those who have been released from the facility. Some figures have estimated that up to 30 percent return to militant groups with the aim of carrying out attacks on Western targets.

But a US official said that figure includes both confirmed and suspected cases. He said 16 percent of freed inmates were confirmed to have returned to the battlefield, while about 12 percent are suspected of having done so.