Guantánamo detainees heading for tougher jail

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, CUBA -- Anyone worrying that cushy Caribbean quarters await suspected al Qaeda and Taliban warriors here need look no further than the $29.8 million steel and wire mesh structure rising at Radio Range.

The cells are more cramped. Prisoners will be able to see and chat with only a few other captives. And for all but the first row of cells, the sultry sea breezes are beyond reach and view, behind rows of razor wire.

In fact, commanders suspect that some captives may come to pine for the chaotic and convivial Camp X-Ray instead of the new Camp Delta, which resembles an industrial park consisting of 408 steel and metal mesh cells that look like railroad boxcars.

The prisoner transfer could come in the next few weeks, after about 650 Filipino and Indian contract workers finish welding the cells, after their April 12 deadline.

"For them, I think they'll appreciate the fact that they have their own toilets in the unit, that they have better bedding, " said Marine Maj. James Bell, a spokesman for the prison project. "But for us, it's a more secure environment."

And the toilets are key, as are knee-high wash basins being put into each cell to let prisoners wash their feet five times a day in keeping with the tradition of Muslim prayer.

Guards have bristled under the duty of shackling prisoners hand and foot before shuffling them to latrines at Camp X-Ray, the rugged 320-cell outpost out of sight of the sea and close to the boundary between the base and Cuban territory.

Navy Seabees welding chain-link fencing threw together that camp in a matter of days.

But Bell says Pentagon planners used Federal Bureau of Prisons specifications to design Camp Delta, a cramped concentration of cellblocks to serve as America's offshore internment center for international terror suspects.


Cells measuring eight feet by six feet eight inches are lined up neatly in rows and packed together on a two-acre site that also has a shower facility, an exercise yard, processing center, administrative offices and interrogation rooms. The cells, cut from steel shipping containers, are all identical. They are similar to the cages of Camp X-Ray - except for the metal beds welded to the floor, the wash basin and toilets.

Congress first approved $16.4 million for the first 408 cells more than two months ago.

Camp X-Ray officers announced last week that they had obtained another $13.4 million for 204 more cells, to be completed perhaps in late June as the project increases in scope to provide as many as 2,040 boxcar-like cells for foreigners swept up in the global war on terror.

At that rate, the price per cell is $48,692. But Bell warns against such an analysis of the cost, saying there may be other invisible costs, such as the infrastructure around the cellblocks, which includes several lines of razor wire and other unseen security measures to make sure no one breaks out of this Alcatraz of the Caribbean.

Army Lt. Col. Bill Cline, who was recently assigned as commander, or warden, of Camp X-Ray, concedes that the prisoners will likely find their new quarters rather boring "because of the design."

"They'll probably be more restricted in terms of them talking, " he said.

So the Muslim naval cleric at the prison project has been preparing the men for greater isolation - after months of being able to speak among themselves across the cellblocks.

"There is some anxiety there, " said Navy Lt. Abuhena Saiful-Islam. "The tension may be they can see each other right now; when they go to Camp Delta, they can't see each other as much."

Already, he said, some prisoners have asked if they can stay in Camp X-Ray.

The answer is no.


Commanders say the investment in a new jail is not meant to make the captives comfortable or amuse them while the Pentagon decides whether to repatriate some, send others to military tribunals or simply incarcerate them indefinitely.

The undertaking is meant to make easier the work of the 600 or so soldiers and Marines who have found themselves thrust into guarding a prison population they are mandated to describe as "detainees."

And while the Pentagon decides, officers say Camp Delta is also a temporary solution to what may emerge as a long-term problem - the indefinite incarceration of young warriors too dangerous to release into the world but unsuitable to face military tribunals. Evidence to build cases has been scarce, in part because some prisoners still are not cooperating with their interrogators and because of their capture about 8,000 miles away.

So military sources say Pentagon planners have scouted out a space on the base's leeward side, near the airfield, that could serve as the site of a more durable "brick-and-mortar facility."

Were it to happen, they say, it would require a three-year federal building project that is far more expensive than anything seen here so far - suitable for holding prisoners for life.