Southcom again seeking $69M for new terror prison at Guantánamo

Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, commander of the Guantánamo Detention Center, speaking with reporters on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014.
Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, commander of the Guantánamo Detention Center, speaking with reporters on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. MIAMI HERALD

The Pentagon’s Southern Command intends to seek $69 million from the Republican-controlled Congress to build a new prison for high-value, former CIA detainees after President Barack Obama leaves office.

Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, commander of the detention center, said Southcom included the proposed appropriation in the fiscal year 2017 portion of its four-your plan for the war-on-terror detention center the president has pledged to close.

The current high-value prison, Camp 7, is a bit of a mystery. Reporters can’t see it and the public can’t know how much the Bush administration spent to build it for the accused 9/11 mastermind and more than a dozen other men brought here in 2006 as suspected senior terrorists.

But Marine Gen. John Kelly told Congress in February that structural problems on the secret site where it sits on this 45-square-mile base had made it “increasingly unsustainable due to drainage and foundation issues.”

In an interview Friday, Cozad told reporters the maximum-security lockup is safe.

“Quite frankly, there’s no operational issue with that facility today,” he said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have folks in there.”

The House Armed Services Committee included the $69 million in its proposed omnibus defense funding bill earlier this year. But the Democrat-led Senate and Obama’s Defense Department rejected it. The current Senate effectively killed funding by proposing a countermeasure requiring the Secretary of Defense to certify any new building’s enduring value.

Cozad dismissed a question of whether, since the GOP took control of the Senate in Tuesday’s midterm election, Guantánamo was more likely to get funding for the new prison. That would “purely be speculation,” he said.

If approved for fiscal year 2017, which starts Oct. 1, 2016, that would likely enable construction of a building and enclosures for men meant to be held at Guantánamo after Obama leaves office in January 2017.

About 90 percent of the prison’s 148 captives are held in Camps 5 and 6 — two steel and cement copies of jails in the United States, with cell space for 300.

Cozad said it was not possible to move the 14 or 15 so-called “high-value captives” to a segregated wing or block where the others are held “based on higher level policy,” and because it would not be “space prudent.”

U.S. policy for handling former CIA captives holds them largely incommunicado with a special secret guard force because details of their waterboarding and other treatment overseas at secret sites are still considered classified,

In other comments:

▪  Cozad declined to discuss plans to ease the Camp 7 conditions of incommunicado a bit by giving the captives there some form of time-delayed video conferencing with their families.

He said he may yet be compelled to testify about it at a war court hearing in the case of a man accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing and awaiting a death-penalty trial.

▪  The admiral said that there had never been a policy to prevent female guards from touching Guantánamo’s most prized captives — the suspected al-Qaida leaders in Camp 7. He said he was unaware of past practice that prevented it. Female guards don’t supervise the ex-CIA captives during showers or conduct groin searches.

Lawyers for some of the men awaiting trial said the captives are refusing meetings because there are female guards on the escort teams, something new, and traditional or devout Muslims don’t want to be touched by them.

▪  The admiral said he would continue withholding the number of hunger strikers from public disclosure because the “detainees manipulate the media on a routine basis” by spreading lies through their legal counsel about what goes on at the prison.

The admiral swatted aside a suggestion that the detention center could disclose its truth by once again reporting the number of detainees U.S. Navy medical staff consider at risk and list for tube-feedings. The prison reported numbers on a daily basis last year, and the Miami Herald charted the hunger strike rise, fall and then rise again until the military pulled the plug on its transparency in December.

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