Guantánamo downsizes by closing one prison, cutting 400 troops

An MP secures the gate at one of the Sally Ports in Camp 5, a maximum security facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Feb. 15, 2006, in a photo released by the detention center.
An MP secures the gate at one of the Sally Ports in Camp 5, a maximum security facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Feb. 15, 2006, in a photo released by the detention center. U.S. NAVY

Commanders have shut down operations at a 100-cell maximum-security lockup called Camp 5 and plan to convert it to a new prison clinic and psychiatric ward, the military disclosed Wednesday, as part of its continuing operations to comply with President Barack Obama’s order to close the detention center.

Camp 5 is where the prison for years segregated hunger strikers, punished feces hurlers and isolated convicted war criminals. Two captives committed suicide there.

“We’re now down to 61 detainees and we have consolidated our detainee population from Camp 5 into Camp 6,” Navy Capt. John Filostrat told reporters during a lunch-time recess at pretrial hearings in the USS Cole bombing case. “The rest are in Camp 7 and in the coming months we’ll reduce by three Military Police companies and about a dozen medical personnel.”

Under that plan, the U.S. Southern Command would shrink the force of upward of 1,950 troops and civilians by about 400 soldiers by year’s end, he said. No one is being sent home early. Instead, he said, the prison has canceled three upcoming Military Police deployments to this remote base in Cuba.

Camp 5 is where the prison for years isolated hunger strikers, punished feces hurlers and segregated war criminals. A subsidiary of the Pentagon contractor Halliburton built Camp 5 for $17 million in 2003 and 2004 as a state-of-the-art, air-conditioned penitentiary-style building with constant camera surveillance copied from a state prison in Bunker Hill, Indiana. Two war on terror captives committed suicide there, in 2007 by hanging and in 2012 by drug overdose.

The lights and air-conditioning are still on there as Camp 5 is undergoing an $8.4 million renovation to become a medical facility. It should be ready next summer, Filostrat said.

He said troops emptied the building of prisoners Aug. 19, a week after the Pentagon sent 15 captives to the United Arab Emirates. The consolidation leaves 15 former CIA captives, including the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind and his accused accomplices, segregated in a secret site called Camp 7, where they have a separate medical staff and facility.

Now, most if not all of the last 46 long-held captives are at the medium-security Camp 6, a $39 million, 200-cell prison building where captives can eat together, pray together and walk in and out of communal recreation yards with Army guards watching from outside. Camp 6, which has a clinic, opened in 2006 and has also been used for single-cell, non-communal detention. It is adjacent to Camp 5 and has another detainee lockup across the road called Camp Echo.

Filostrat, the prison spokesman, would not say how the military is handling hunger strikers and the lone convict, Ali Hamzi al Bahlul, who was confined for years to a Camp 5 cellblock reserved for war criminals.

The prison says they’ll transform the 100-cell lockup into a psych ward and health clinic for Camp 6, which already has a clinic.

But Filostrat did say that all 61 captives are currently in a “compliant status,” meaning not one of them is wearing Guantánamo’s trademark orange jumpsuit of a rule breaker.

In another effort at downsizing, Filostrat said the Navy medical unit that was surged to handle a big hunger strike in 2013 would continue to number more than 100 doctors, nurses and medics who have taken on duties of also caring for the prison staff at Guantánamo.

Under the current force structure, the Pentagon staffs the detention center with at least 33 soldiers, medics and civilians for each Guantánamo captive — compared to 14 staff per prisoner at the height of the crippling 2013 hunger strike.

Filostrat predicted that the Pentagon would transfer away at least 20 more of the last 61 detainees at Guantánamo in coming months. They are cleared for release through various federal review boards.

“We’ll continue operations until the last detainee is transferred or moved. We support the president’s goal to close the detention facility,” he said. “But until the last detainee is transferred out we have to continue operations.”

He was asked whether the prison could change course if the next U.S. president orders more captives sent to the prison — a clear reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s vow to “load it up with some bad dudes

“We would have to plan for that contingency,” Filostrat replied. “It just depends on what the commander-in-chief wants.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

About Camp 5

Camp 5 was built in 2003 and 2004 by Kellogg Brown & Root when it was a subsidiary of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s former firm. The company, now known as KBR, separated from Halliburton in 2006.

Carol Rosenberg