GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Twenty months after it opened as a short-term solution early in America's war on terrorism, this much-criticized military detention and interrogation camp is evolving from wire mesh to concrete.
The hastily erected Camp Delta for "enemy combatants" will make a significant leap toward permanence with a previously undisclosed fifth phase that will be hard-sided and take a year to build, The Herald has learned.
Workers are also retrofitting a makeshift courtroom in case some of the 660 detainees from 42 countries, most of them suspected al Qaeda members or Taliban soldiers captured in Afghanistan, are tried before a military commission.
The developments suggest that the Bush administration is literally pouring concrete around its controversial policy of indefinitely holding alleged terrorists and supporters in legal limbo, without prisoner-of-war rights.
"[This] should exist as long as the global war on terrorism is ongoing if it helps our nation and our allies win," said camp commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller. "We are exceptionally good at developing intelligence that will help defeat the scourge of terrorism."
Many legal scholars and human rights groups continue to argue that the policy unnecessarily bends U.S. law and undermines the stability of the Geneva Conventions when instead the existing legal system could be modified to meet intelligence security needs.
But calls to change the approach seem increasingly moot as workers throw up ever more durable structures, also including dormitory housing for 2,000 soldiers here.
The new "Camp Five" will take three times longer to build than the four existing camps, which are made from wire mesh and metal atop concrete slabs, with chain-link fences and wood towers.
"It is a hard-sided concrete building," Miller said. "Unfortunately, we have to ship everything into Guantanamo Bay by sea, and it takes time to get the materials down here."
The contractor is Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, Texas-based Halliburton. The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says the subsidiary received $1.3 billion in government business last year - much of it, like this, without having to enter a bid.
Halliburton referred questions to Navy public affairs officer John Peters, who said via e-mail that Camp Five will have about 24,000 square feet when completed in mid-2004. It was part of a $25 million task order issued June 6.
Miller said it will increase Camp Delta's detainee capacity by 100, to 1,100, but its main purpose will be "an enlargement of our ability to do interrogations" - now conducted in trailers at the camp's edge.
Told of the development, Wendy Patten of Human Rights Watch wondered about the implication of an interrogation facility that included cells.
"It's interesting they chose to frame it as an interrogation facility," Patten said. "Does it become the camp to house the people who are the subject of the more intensive interrogations, or whose cooperation they haven't been able to obtain?"
Patten also said the news of "a commitment to a level of permanence we haven't seen up to now" likely means that analysis of detainee releases has been wrong. Some commentators have said the military may have decided to draw down the numbers held here.
Sixty-four have been released and four transferred to Saudi Arabia for continued detention, said Maj. John Smith, a military spokesman.