February 3, 2014

Obama administration won't divulge a Guantánamo prison cost, seeks lawsuit's dismissal

The Justice Department said in a federal court filing that the cost of a secret prison at Guantánamo is classified, and explained why in a secret filing to the judge.

The Obama administration is refusing to divulge how much it spent to build the secret prison facility at Guantánamo where the accused 9/11 co-conspirators are held and has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by a Miami Herald reporter demanding documents that would reveal the number.

In a filing Friday, the Justice Department said that the Pentagon had found just one document that would provide information relevant to a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request reporter Carol Rosenberg filed seeking that cost figure. That document was exempt from disclosure, the filing said, because it contained details of internal deliberations and the names of many officials who were entitled to privacy.

The Justice Department also made a separate secret filing with the court that provided more details on why the document should remain secret. That filing was not shared with Rosenberg's attorneys, and its contents are unknown.

Rosenberg, who has covered the detention center at Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, originally had sought the cost of the facility, known as Camp 7, as part of her reporting on how much building and maintaining the detention center costs U.S. taxpayers.

The Defense Department had provided construction costs for all other portions of the detention center. When it refused to provide any documents responding to her request for information on Camp 7, Rosenberg sued in federal court in Washington D.C., accusing the Pentagon in part of not conducting a thorough search for documents.

The information is particularly relevant now because the Southern Command, the military entity that controls Guantánamo, is seeking $49 million to replace the eight-year-old facility, which apparently was built improperly and is suffering from serious structural defects, including a cracked foundation.

The Pentagon has refused to say who originally undertook the work, and its responses to Rosenberg's FOIA would indicate that it has no record of a construction contract or bidding document for the facility.

The filing included a declaration from Karen Hecker, an associate deputy general counsel for the Pentagon, asserting that the Pentagon had conducted a thorough search for relevant documents. She said the assignment for finding relevant records had been made to the Office of Detainee Policy, which oversees Guantánamo, and that it had discovered only the one document. Hecker's declaration described the document as "part of the DoD deliberative process and was prepared to assist and guide senior policy makers within DoD in their decision making roles." That made it exempt from disclosure, she said.

Hecker also said the document made reference to a number of people "at the military rank of colonel or below or the civilian level of GS-15 or below" who might suffer "annoyance or harassment in their private lives" if their connection to Guantánamo or the Office of Detainee Policy were to become known. That privacy concern also made the document exempt from disclosure, she claimed.

There was no description offered of the secret filing except that it was made ex parte, meaning without Rosenberg's lawyers being given a copy, and in camera, meaning it was not part of the public court file and had been shared only with the judge. However, in its request for a summary judgment, the Justice Department said the document was also exempt from disclosure because it had been properly classified and the release of the information it contained "reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security."

Camp 7 holds Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York. Until Mohammed and the other prisoners held there were transferred to Guantánamo in 2006, they had been kept in secret jails operated by the CIA. Now, five alleged 9/11 plotters are awaiting a death penalty trial, all in Camp 7.

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