WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Wednesday night that “it’s crazy” that the United States spends about $13 million a year for each terrorism suspect held at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and added that he would search for alternatives.
“I know about that,” Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew back to Washington after a three-day campaign trip to New Mexico and California. “I think it’s crazy. It costs a fortune to operate, and I think it’s crazy.”
But he would not say whether he would consider closing the prison at Guantánamo. “We’re looking at a lot of things,” he said without elaborating. Instead, he pointed out that his predecessor tried and failed to shutter the prison. “Look, President Obama said that Guantánamo Bay would be closed, and he never got it done.”
The president’s comments came in reaction to a report in The New York Times tabulating the expense of housing the 40 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo, who include the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. According to the report, the government spent more than $540 million last year to hold the prisoners, including pay for the military guards, the cost of the war court and related construction expenses.
The cost of $13 million per prisoner certainly makes the detention facility at Guantánamo, which was set up by President George W. Bush’s administration in the months after 9/11 and became a public relations liability, the world’s most expensive prison.
By comparison, it cost American taxpayers in 2012 just $78,000 per inmate at the “supermax” federal prison in Colorado, where some of the nation’s most dangerous prisoners are kept and where some officials in the past have suggested transferring the Guantánamo detainees.
Mr. Bush sought to reduce the population before leaving office and released about 540 detainees, mostly transferring them to home countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama vowed during his 2008 presidential campaign to close Guantánamo, and his administration released another 200 through a similar approach.
But Mr. Obama was blocked by Congress from transferring the remaining detainees to any federal prison in the United States amid resistance to the idea of bringing terrorists to American soil. And when Mr. Trump ran for president in 2016, he vowed to keep Guantánamo open and even to send more terrorists there, although none have actually been added to the prison since he took office.
In his comments to reporters on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump focused more on what to do with prisoners captured during the war with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and still held by the United States in the Middle East. The president has demanded that European allies take those prisoners who originally came from their countries. He repeated his threat to release them at the borders of those nations if they do not.
“The big decision we have now is we have thousands of people,” Mr. Trump said. “They came from other countries. We want those countries to take them back. We did them a big favor by stopping them. If they came from France, we want France to take them and to try and do whatever they have to do with them. But that’s a very expensive situation.”