Guantánamo

Oops! Guantánamo’s secret prison is structurally sound after all

Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke, the 16th commander of Guantánamo detention operations, holding a press conference at his headquarters on May 24, 2016 in a photo approved for release by his Public Affairs staff.
Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke, the 16th commander of Guantánamo detention operations, holding a press conference at his headquarters on May 24, 2016 in a photo approved for release by his Public Affairs staff. crosenberg@miamiherald.com

Remember the claim that the secret prison where the military keeps its former CIA captives was falling apart? Unsustainable? A Marine general asked Congress for $49 million and a committee proposed $69 million to build a new one.

The current commander of the detention center says it was one big mistake. The clandestine lockup called Camp 7 that houses the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 14 other “high-value detainees” is just fine. No new construction is necessary, Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke told reporters in a rare news conference Tuesday.

“There was a report . . . that was not based on sound engineering analysis,” Clarke said without elaboration of who did it and when. “And once engineers got in there and evaluated, it was determined to be structurally safe. It was just preliminary assessments without the rigor of good engineering work.”

His spokesman, Navy Capt. Christopher Scholl, likewise did not reply to requests for a timetable.

Clarke made the remark a week before perhaps as many as seven Camp 7 residents are to be brought to the war court for pretrial hearings in the Sept. 11 case. The five alleged plotters, facing an eventual death-penalty trial, are due there for a week of pretrial hearings starting on Memorial Day.

One of them, alleged plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh, has called two other residents of the SuperMax-style building to testify about noises and vibrations he hears and feels at the secret prison and considers intentional. One is a Palestinian captive known as Abu Zubaydah, and the other is a Somali, Hassan Guleed. They have not been seen in public since their 2002 and 2005 capture and disappearance by the CIA. They were brought to Camp 7 in September 2006 and have never been charged with a crime.

The ex-CIA prisoners were already at Camp 7 for six years when then-U.S. Southern Command Gen. John F. Kelly asked Congress for $49 million to build a new one. In 2014, he testified that the situation was “increasingly unsustainable due to drainage and foundation issues.”

Then in March 2014, one of Clarke’s predecessors, a former Top Gun flight instructor, told reporters that troops were managing but “literally the ground’s heaving up underneath it. So it’s cracking the floor. That’s the biggest issue. So once you start cracking the floors, you start cracking the walls, then doors don’t work — things like that. That’s the issue,” said Rear Adm. Richard Butler, who has since retired. “Right now it’s operational, but the fear is that any more [and] it’s going to potentially not be.”

​That same year, without a request from the administration, the House Armed Services Committee inserted $69 million for a new Camp 7 into a draft bill. It was not adopted, but GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, then a deputy and now the committee chairman, said: “The one they have now is falling apart​.”​ He said a new Camp 7 would be better for the troops.

​That same year the Miami Herald lost a Freedom of Information lawsuit​ to find out how much the current structure cost, and which government contractor built it. A federal judge ruled that the one document the Pentagon could find answering that question was properly classified, a state secret. The Herald subsequently filed a new FOIA with the CIA but has not heard back.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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