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What I Would Do with my $13.8 Million

Jan 28, 2020 - 17:08
Election Articles

There are now just 40 of us locked up here in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—but they say it costs more than $380 million every year to keep the prison running. That doesn’t include the naval base. Or the salaries of the almost 8500 guards here to watch us.  It costs $13.8 million, per year, per prisoner. I heard that in U.S. federal prisons, it costs about $31,000 per year. I know the U.S. is much richer than my home country of Afghanistaninfo-icon, but this staggering waste still shocks me.

The Guantanamo Bill includes lawyers on the Pentagon payroll. The 23 of us who are “forever no value prisoners”, meant to remain here without charge or trial, are dependent on the kindness of pro bono counsel. Mine are from Lewis Baach and Reprieve, and they had to sign a document promising to ask for no government money at all. But Guantanamo legal bill—including military courts and judges—is $60 million every year.  After 18 years, they must be up to a billion dollars by now, and where has all the money gone? There has been just one conviction – surely the most expensive guilty plea in history.

President Donald Trump thinks it’s “crazy” to spend $13.8 million per year for each Guantanamo detainee. While we may differ with some of what he says, this is one point where we can all agree.

I know how crazy it is because I’ve been caged here for over 12 years. I have never been charged. I have never seen the inside of a courtroom. Before they snatched me up and brought me here, I was young. I had just gotten married. I had a baby girl, who we named Maryam. I have missed all of her childhood. She’s now a teenager. Once every few weeks I am allowed to call her—but it is never enough time to go over school work together.  Maryam wants to be a doctor and I want to support her. People think Afghan men are sexist and believe a woman’s place is at home, but there is nothing I want more than for my daughter to become an independent and professional woman. I do not want Maryam to grow up as a graceful accessory. My biggest regret now, is that I am not home to help her achieve her dream.

At $13.8 million per prisoner you probably think we live in great luxury. It’s not so.  I have been subjected to horrible abuse. I cannot escape far even in the quiet recesses of my mind. My days and nights bleed together as I age in this claustrophobic prison cell—with nothing for company but despair and misfortune. I am deeply ashamed to say that I often think of death. It seems the only way to escape the torment of my life.

So, where does this $13.8 million go? The guards did provide me with a plastic flexi pen to write this. It works for a few words and then runs dry.

I am the only Afghan “No Value Detainee” left in this place. I am the only one who speaks Pashtoinfo-icon, yet they maintain a staff of 12 Pashto interpreters – just for me! Sadly, I rarely get to see one. I would like to because I have no one with whom I can speak my native tongue.

They say $60,000 monthly is spent on food for us—the 23 “No Value Detainees” (NVDs). That translates to $87 a day. I could eat out in New York City every day from what I hear. On good days, if I am very lucky I get a fresh tomato or an onion—but the food was far better in the Pakistani refugee camp where I grew up.  Although this inflated food budget accounts for $31,755 a year, that still leaves the U.S. military with $13,768,244 more to spend.

For every prisoner, there are 212 big, burly soldiers in desert camouflage to guard us. That’s 8,500 soldiers for 40 men in cages. I don’t know why they need so many. Nobody commits any crime and no one can escape. If someone tried a jailbreak, his options would be bleak. He could either jump in the sea and be eaten by a shark while trying to swim 301 km to Haiti. Or—he could try to run off the U.S. military base to Cuba and get blown up in the second largest landmine field in the worldinfo-icon (after the Korean divide). I am told that there are 60,000 land mines in between the US base and the rest of Cuba.

So, President Trump is right. This is “crazy.” It’s an insane waste of American tax dollars. However, if he is serious about using money wisely, I wonder whether he would take my advice and let us spend my $13.8 million differently? If he is serious about peace in Afghanistan, he could start diverting the money being wasted in Guantánamo to rebuild my country. For each million spent, we could easily have a school for thousands of students. My millions could educate all of the children of Nangarhar province.

And we could build hospitals. I estimate that my $13.8 million would pay for 260 hospitals all over Afghanistan. Afghans who support the Talibaninfo-icon do so because they mistrust the Americans and the politicians in the big cities. Such a gesture of good will would help the peace process far more than any bomb dropped on my country.

I would ask for no money for myself. I can live well in Afghanistan on $500 a year—which I am able to earn myself. I might give a donation to Reprieve, the charity that has helped me all these years in Guantánamo. Maybe Mr. Trump could spare money for that, so they can continue their good work.

And I am only one. There are another twenty-two NVDs left in Guantánamo. Five of them have been cleared for release for years. They remain locked in their cages because Mr. Trump refuses to let them go. That could be another 286 schools, for a quarter of a million students; or 572 country hospitals. Then President Trump might actually get peace before the 2020 election. 

View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy.

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Author’s brief introduction

 Asadullah Haroon Gul is the last Afghan No-Value-Detainee imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has been held for over 12 years. He has never been charged with any crime and has never seen the inside of a court room.  Donald Trump refuses to return him back home in Jalalabad, Afghanistaninfo-icon.

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