Even as federal judges weigh whether the U.S. has the authority to detain and try suspects in the war on terror, the Pentagon is quietly planning for permanency at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, The Herald has learned.
Pentagon planners are now seeking $25 million to build a state-of-the-art 200-cell concrete building meant to eventually replace the rows of rugged cells fashioned from shipping containers at Camp Delta.
At the same time, the Army is creating a full-time, professional guard force - a 324-member Military Police Internment and Resettlement Battalion that will replace a temporary, mostly reserve force at Guantánamo.
A Department of Army memorandum to Congress obtained by The Herald envisions the new military police force being included in the 2005 and 2006 budgets. "This action is part of a systematic process to enhance Army's capabilities required to defend the Nation's interests at home and abroad, " says the undated memo from the Army's legislative liaison office.
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It gave two key dates: Oct. 16, 2004, to activate the battalion headquarters and its first company, and Oct. 16, 2005, to activate another company.
Not all 20 officers and 304 enlisted soldiers have been activated, said Army Col. David McWilliams of the Southern Command. But an advance team is already at the base preparing to take up guard duties in the spring, he said.
A second Army memo to answer congressional queries about the new unit says it "doctrinally supports a sensitive operational requirement" and "helps to mitigate the high operational tempo of the military police force."
Aside from the Marine force that set up the prison nearly three years ago, many troops who guarded captives in Guantánamo have been Army reservists mobilized from civilian law enforcement duties in the Midwest.
The prison today has about 550 captives from 42 nations who have been brought to Cuba from Afghanistan, the first front in the war against terrorism. Only four have been charged with crimes, a trial process now stalled in federal courts.
On Nov. 8, U.S. District Judge James Robertson in Washington, D.C., ruled unconstitutional a Military Commission's war crimes trial for Osama bin Laden driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 34, of Yemen. The Pentagon then suspended all war crimes trials while the Justice Department appealed his decision.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green is deciding on habeas corpus petitions brought by civilian lawyers for 53 prisoners alleging they are illegally detained. "They're betting that the courts are going to, in the end, find for the government, that they can keep these enemy combatants, as they label them, indefinitely, as long as they have some kind of an annual review process, " said retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a Vietnam veteran who is now a senior military affairs fellow at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby.
"So Guantánamo becomes an extra-territorial - I don't want to say gulag - a prison for anyone we want to put down there and label an unlawful enemy combatant, " Smith said.
Bush administration officials describe any possible judicial proceedings there as secondary to the prison's main purpose of holding and interrogating suspects for intelligence on how al Qaeda works. Commanders describe the guards' work there as at times humiliating and testing soldiers' patience because some captives have spewed insults and spit on guards.
That kind of contact would be reduced under the Pentagon plan to replace Camp Delta, which was projected to last five years when it opened in May 2002.
Built by KBR, a subsidiary of Pentagon contractor Halliburton, Delta's cells were welded from steel shipping containers by laborers brought in from South Asia.
"Camp Delta is comprised of temporary facilities that are rapidly reaching the end of their design life, and therefore a more permanent facility is needed, " said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Leon Sumpter. The new mortar-and-steel prison, called Camp 6, should cost $25 million. Commanders hope to consolidate most Camp Delta prisoners into "these hardened facilities, " he said.
Pentagon officials are still crunching the prison project's overall cost in response to a 2-month-old Herald request. A Senate tally, as of April 2003, estimated building costs only at $104 million. Virtually all expenditures have come from post-Sept. 11 emergency funding rather than line-item appropriations by Congress.
A Pentagon spokesman said it was still unclear how the military would pay for Camp 6. "There's a lot of unknowns about the project, " said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alvin Plexico.
Begun as a short-term detention and interrogation solution to relieve overwhelmed troops in Afghanistan, the prison on the Navy base in southeastern Cuba has had a nearly nonstop three-year building boom.
CAMP 5 \Besides the 1,000-cell Camp Delta, the Pentagon has also built Camp 5, a 100-cell version of the new prison being proposed; a new command center, a laundry, fitness center, movie theater, and extensive dining and recreation facilities - all sprawled across an area called Radio Range, that overlooks the Caribbean. Reporters got a glimpse of the future in November in a brief tour of Camp 5, which commanders called efficient, effective and humane despite repeated allegations that U.S.-approved interrogation techniques are tantamount to torture.
The designs for Camp 5 and 6 copy a medium-security prison in Indiana, the Miami Correctional Facility at Bunker Hill.
The Pentagon has built a series of prison camps at Guantánamo Bay since it opened its offshore interrogation center for terror suspects in January 2002. They include:
Camp XRay: The first camp, with 320 cells made of chain-link fencing. A maze of kennel-like cages, prisoners lived there for about four months, an arrangement that allowed them to chat and pray communally, and at one point organize a hunger strike. Now abandoned.
Camp Delta: The first improvement, for 1,000 prisoners, has rows of box-car style steel and mesh cells, welded from metal shipping containers by Halliburton workers from the Indian subcontinent. It opened in May 2002 with a projected five-year life and today houses most prisoners.
Camp Echo: Now a site for prisoners to meet lawyers, it was set up as special segregation site for detainees facing war crimes trials. Its has 38 cells that prevent captives from speaking to or seeing each other.
Camp 5: A maximum security building modeled after a state prison in Bunker Hill, Ind., the $15 million 100-cell jail can hold up to 100 prisoners monitored by guards using closed-circuit cameras and a central locking system. It also has special interrogation cells. Only 50 so-called high-value prisoners were held there in November.
Camp 6: Not yet funded by Congress, the blueprint proposes a $25 million, 200-cell, centrally run prison along the lines of Camp 5. It was designed in consultation with an Indiana prison superintendent, John Van Natta, during his reserve Army duty at Guantánamo more than a year ago.
Camp Iguana: Now empty, this concrete-block beachfront building housed three teenaged detainees from Afghanistan until they were sent home in January.