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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is asking Congress for more than $450 million for maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo Bay prison that President Obama wants to close.
New details on the administration's budget request emerged on Tuesday and underscored the contradiction of the president waging a political fight to shutter the facility while the military calculates the financial requirements to keep the installation operating.
The budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 calls for $79 million for detention operations, the same as the current year, and $20.5 million for the office of military commissions, an increase over the current amount of $12.6 million. The request also includes $40 million for a fiber optic cable and $99 million for operation and maintenance.
The Pentagon also wants $200 million for military construction to upgrade temporary facilities. That work could take eight to 10 years as the military has to transport workers to the island, rely on limited housing and fly in building material.
The facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba currently holds 166 prisoners, and hunger strikes by 100 of them over their indefinite detention and prison conditions prompted Obama to renew his effort to close Guantanamo. The president is expected to discuss the future of the facility in a speech on counterterrorism on Thursday.
"Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," the president said at a White House news conference last month. "It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."
Since his inauguration in January 2009, Obama has pushed for shutting the prison, signing an executive order for closure during his first week in office. He has faced resistance in Congress with Republicans and some Democrats repeatedly blocking efforts to transfer terror suspects to the United States.
The law that Congress passed and Obama signed in March to keep the government running includes a longstanding provision that prohibits any money for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States or its territories. It also bars spending to overhaul any U.S. facility in the U.S. to house detainees.
That makes it essentially illegal for the government to transfer the men it wants to continue holding, including five who were charged before a military tribunal with orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawmakers have cited statistics on terror suspects striking again and argued that Obama has failed to produce a viable alternative to Guantanamo.
Some members of Congress counter that U.S. maximum security prisons currently hold convicted terrorists and can handle such suspects. Among those in U.S. prisons is Zacarias Moussaoui, who planned the Sept. 11 attacks.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he favors closing Guantanamo for several reasons, including the expense. Money in a time of deficits could be a factor for other lawmakers, including fiscal conservatives in Congress.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday offering his help to get the facility closed.
Until it is, Smith wrote, "it will continue to symbolize an unjust attempt to avoid the rule of law and to undermine the United States' moral standing in defending its values and protecting human rights."
Smith said al-Qaida continues to use Guantanamo to rally violent extremists to its cause.