Judicial Watch, Inc. has obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) documents revealing that the Obama administration has spent more than a half million dollars in taxpayer funds on car rentals at Guantanamo Bay Naval Air Station since 2009, including seven instances costing Americans more than $5,000 and 11 of more than $4,000. In releasing the tables summarizing the documents requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the agency stated that “the data provided may not be a complete or accurate representation of rental car expenses at Guantanamo as it reflects only those purchases made with the [Government Travel Charge Card] and only in those cases where vouchers were filed in [the Defense Travel System] database.” Additionally, the agency explained that rental car records for members on permanent duty assignment to the base were not available in the one record system to which the agency limited its search.
Judicial Watch launched its investigation into rental car and gasoline expenses at Guantanamo Bay in the course of its observation of the military commissions of individuals accused of terrorism on behalf of al Qaeda, including the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Most of the 45-square mile base is off limits to nonofficial vehicles due to the detention center and other ongoing military operations at the base. Notwithstanding the limited area of travel, DOD personnel visiting the base rent cars at taxpayer expense, paying a rate of $600 per month or $7,200 per year.
Despite its inability to account for all rental car spending on base, the agency refused Judicial Watch’s request for a fee waiver, provided under FOIA for records obtained in the public interest. DOD reasoned as follows in affirming its decision not to waive fees associated with this request:
“While the documents provided do concern the operations and activities of the government and they are not being used in a commercial interest, it is not apparent how they contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government. After carefully reviewing your request and the responsive documents, I am denying your fee waiver request because I do not see how the information will significantly contribute to the public’s understanding of the operations and activities of government.”
DOD charged Judicial Watch $880 for these records at a rate of $44 per hour. However, DOD further stated that since the agency had failed to alert Judicial Watch of costs exceeding $350 (as requested), it would forego collecting the difference. Nevertheless, DOD warned Judicial Watch that failure to pay within 30 days would result in unspecified interest charges.