By Saifullah Paracha, ISN 1094
I was surprised to hear President Donald Trump complaining about the $13 million that the U.S. spends per detainee each year, to detain us without charge at Guantánamo Bay. It is difficult to think what they spend it on. Certainly, it is not spent on us. They do not need $13 million to close my cell door on me or to send me out into a shingle compound to walk in circles for an hour. I have diabetes, arthritis, and get chest pains that are clear warnings of my mortality, but they certainly do not spend $13 million on my healthcare. I have had two heart attacks and I fear it will not be third time lucky.
They don’t spend the money on the guards either. I have tried to befriend many soldiers over the years, as I feel sorry for them. They are little better off than we are. They are told we are the worst of the worst terrorists in the world, and that they are being sent here to do the job for which they enlisted – to make America safe. When they get here, they discover a bunch of nobodies – an old Pakistani businessman like me, a Karachi taxi driver like Ahmed, or Abdul Latif who was meant to have been on a plane home at the end of the Obama Administration. Trump has sworn he will not transfer anyone. We are “no value” forever-detainees, marooned here on a presidential whim.
Is it any surprise that soldiers here reportedly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at a rate twice as high as those on the battlefield? At least the latter are doing the job they signed up for. Here, the guards find that they are not fighting, or even serving, the country they thought was America. Instead, they are riddled with doubt as to the meaning of their lives. I don’t get any therapy here for the abuses and the losses I have suffered, but I do find myself doling out advice to soldiers in their teens or early twenties who are psychologically lost. The S.O.G. is the Sergeant of the Guard in our camp. They call me O.G., which I am told stands for “Old Granddad”. One guard even ended up calling me “Father.”
My lawyer asked me what I would rather spend my $13 million on. I tell him, forget the $13 million, and just give me a boarding pass for the plane back to my family.
If I am not allowed that, first I ask why the American people would want to waste their tax dollars. So far they have spent $6 billion on this prison that has made nobody more safe and severely damaged the USA’s reputation as a country founded on the rule of law. My best estimate is that this could have saved the lives of 100,000 Americans – if it had been spent on health care, rather than torture.
Yet when pressed and told I must spend it all, I do not find that hard. It is what I used to do when I was a wealthy businessman, and had money myself. I do feel a duty to thank those who have helped me over many years, so I would donate $1 million to Reprieve to continue their good work. The rest I would invest in Pakistan, to help people to love life rather than cast it away on “jihad”. I have calculated that for each $1.5 million, I could create a hospital within a sustainable community – 200 families with jobs on the premises, a school, a fruit orchard and a hive of honey bees. It may sound impossible for that kind of sum, but it is Pakistan, where money goes much further. Indeed, I have written up an entire business plan which I call the “Milk and Honey Project.”
Imagine – or help America’s leaders to imagine – how much goodwill this would buy. Remember, also, that this is just the money being wasted on keeping one old man locked up. There are more than twenty “no value” detainees like me held in this dreadful prison, at an annual cost to the US taxpayer of over $250 million. I must agree with the President: it is a “crazy” waste of money. A man who so often boasts about getting a good deal should recognize that it is about time he stopped throwing the money away.