IN THE COURTS

Miami Herald reporter sues Pentagon to learn costs at Guantánamo's Camp 7

 
 
In this May 13, 2009 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility at dawn, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba.
In this May 13, 2009 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility at dawn, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba.
BRENNAN LINSLEY / ASSOCIATED PRESS

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Carol Rosenberg, the Miami Herald reporter who's covered the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since it opened in 2002, is suing the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act over its refusal to divulge details of the cost to build and operate the center's Camp 7, where 16 so-called high-value detainees, including the accused 9/11 conspirators, are being held.

In the lawsuit, which lawyers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, Rosenberg notes that President Barack Obama has called the detention center "expensive," "inefficient" and a "recruitment tool for terrorists." The suit also points out that the construction and operating costs have been divulged for all other facilities at the detention center, including most recently a report from the Defense Department's comptroller to Congress this past July that said the U.S. this year will spend $454.1 million to operate Guantánamo, which holds fewer than 200 men. Overall, since the detention center opened, total spending stands at $5.242 billion.

None of that, however, includes the cost for Camp 7, the lawsuit said, something Rosenberg had been trying to learn since 2008. The importance of that information has become more urgent, after the Pentagon's Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo, requested $49 million to rebuild the facility, apparently because the original one was constructed over a dry stream bed and its foundation is buckling.

According to the lawsuit, Rosenberg first wrote the Pentagon on April 9, 2009, asking the Pentagon to disclose documents that would “reveal how much was spent to build a structure known as Camp 7 at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." She also asked, the lawsuit says "for documents sufficient to disclose 'the costs and contracting arrangements for the facility.' Separately, Rosenberg asked for “documents that describe how much it costs to run the facility."

The Pentagon responded the next day, telling Rosenberg that it would be unable to provide the documents within the 20 days the law requires because of the volume of documents involved, the fact that they were not kept at the Pentagon, and "the need to consult" with other agencies. Rosenberg's request was sent to what the Pentagon called its "complex processing queue."

It was more than a year later that the Pentagon responded in any substantive way, the lawsuit says. On June 4, 2010, Rosenberg was told that the search of records from "Joint Task Force Guantanamo and the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy" had turned up a single page responding to her request. And that page, the Pentagon wrote, was not releasable because it was classified, pertained to internal rules and policies and was therefore exempt from FOIA, and that "disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of individuals,” another condition exempting it from FOIA.

Rosenberg immediately appealed, noting that “the costs of all other facilities have been made public at Guantánamo without impeding the detention and interrogation mission" and pointing out that "the privacy issue is applicable to individuals and surely a company or contractor was involved in this building."

The Pentagon waited three years before rejecting her appeal, writing this past Aug. 30. The rejection again said the document was classified and would constitute unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of individuals. It dropped the claim that it pertained only to internal rules and policies and was therefore exempt.

The lawsuit claimed two specific violations of the Freedom of Information Act. It said the Pentagon clearly did not conduct a reasonable search for documents responsive to her request, as required by law, and that it then failed to make documents available that did respond to the request. The lawsuit asks that the court declare the documents public records, order the Pentagon to make them available, and make the Pentagon pay her lawyers.

This is not the first time Rosenberg has sparred with the Pentagon in her efforts to cover Guantánamo. In 2010, she was one of four journalists the Pentagon attempted to ban from covering Guantánamo over the publication of the name of a witness who was testifying there. The ban was lifted after Rosenberg, the Miami Herald and McClatchy, which owns the Herald, threatened legal action. In June this year, the Defense Department bowed to a lawsuit Rosenberg had filed and released the names of so-called "indefinite detainees" at Guantánamo -- men that the Obama administration had determined in 2009 were too dangerous to release but against whom no criminal charges would be brought.

Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the Defense Department was aware of the suit but referred questions to the Department of Justice, where the outgoing message said no one would be available to respond to a call until Congress votes to fund the government.

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, whom Obama appointed to the bench in 2010, has the case.

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