The Obama administration has put the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on notice that the military plans to demolish part of Guantánamo’s Camp 5 prison complex to transform it into a medical facility for low-value detainees in custody there.
The Justice Department filing notifies the court that the prison has already begun implementing an $8.4 million plan to retrofit a classroom building that was once used to tube-feed hunger strikers, something not previously disclosed. The building would be turned into offices for medical providers.
It also describes ongoing work that would transform Alpha Block at the now-empty Camp 5 — a corridor of single-occupancy cells in the 100-cell building — into a medical complex that could quarantine captives with infectious diseases, conduct surgery, and treat patients with medical and mental health issues from the current, low-value-detainee population of 48. Hunger strikers were held there and probably force-fed there, too, the filing says.
Unmentioned in the filing was that on Sept. 8, 2012, Yemeni captive Adnan Latif died of an overdose of drugs in an Alpha Block cell in what a military investigation called a suicide enabled by guards not following their own procedures. Latif’s attorney, David Remes, on Thursday called it “an awful irony.”
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Government lawyers originally submitted the 10-page filing under seal Monday, including an affidavit from the current prison commander, Navy Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke. A government attorney subsequently unsealed it, declaring that it was “inadvertently” done in secrecy.
In it, Clarke says the government has already spent about $1 million on the project for construction work in the Camp 5 and Camp 6 compound to add fencing, gates and trailers. “Demolition” inside a wing of Camp 5 and a building called 2240 begins in October, the admiral says.
“To terminate or even delay the project, the government would incur considerable additional expense to compensate the contractor for material and demobilization,” the admiral warns the court that handles petitions from Guantánamo detainees. “My Chief Engineer estimates that a termination for convenience could cost the government an additional $3-4 million.”
The proposed health complex will not care for the 15 former CIA captives — among them the alleged 9/11 and USS Cole attack plotters — who have a segregated medical facility inside their clandestine Camp 7 prison.
At the prison, spokesman Navy Capt. John Filostrat said Wednesday that the filing was in response to a preservation order imposed years ago by the U.S. District Court on any location where a captive was kept at the remote U.S. Navy base in Cuba. Prison operations began Jan. 11, 2002, when 20 captives were put in cages at Camp X-Ray, now a ramshackle site of chain-link cages and disintegrating wooden structures being swallowed up by nature under a Guantánamo interpretation of the preservation order.
Two attorneys who work on Guantánamo cases said former U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts issued the preservation order at issue in July 2005.
In this week’s filing, styled as a “Notice to the Court,” neither Clarke nor the Justice Department explicitly seek permission to do the demolition. The admiral, who wraps up a year-long assignment at the prison later this year, advises that before anything is demolished the FBI “will create digital recordings” that could be made into “a three-dimensional model of the wing of Camp 5 and Building 2240 to maintain a record of the facilities for future use.”
This is the first known episode of advance, public notice of the Obama administration’s seeking to repurpose a lockup where Guantánamo detainees were once held. This summer, attorneys for the five alleged Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack plotters accused the case judge and prosecutors of secretly colluding in the destruction of a prison that held CIA captives. It is not known if that “black site” was at Guantánamo or elsewhere in the spy agency’s now-defunct global prison program.
Clarke uses the affidavit to defend the state of captive healthcare today — “on par with the medical care provided to U.S. military personnel also stationed here” — and casts the move as meant to “increase efficiency and resource management, as well as cost” at the detention center of 61 captives and about 2,000 staff members. The current medical facility, at the mostly abandoned and run-down Camp Delta, is too far away, was meant to be temporary and is in need of updating, he writes.
“The planned renovation will create updated medical spaces and equipment, such as a surgical suite, an entirely new detainee acute-care unit, an isolation suite, new X-ray equipment and new Central Sterilization Room,” he adds, without explaining how the plan will recreate Camp Delta’s current Behavioral Health Unit, the prison psych ward.
Clarke’s spokesman, Filostrat, declined to elaborate on a number of questions the filing raised.
He would not say whether the proposed plan to build the new detainee medical facility envisions never using the Navy base hospital, a Level Four treatment center and the prison’s current go-to site for sophisticated care it cannot handle. And he would not explain why the admiral was notifying the court after $1 million in work had been done.
Filostrat separately declined to point out on an unclassified Google Map of the Camp 5 compound the structure called Building 2240 whose interior is likewise planned for demolition. “Classes such as literacy, art and life skills may have been taught there,” Filostrat said by email, declining to provide the time period when the building was used as a tube-feeding site for hunger strikers.