By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald
MIAMI — Some members of Congress want to build a new secret prison for the alleged 9/11 mastermind and other former CIA captives at Guantanamo, a project once proposed by the U.S. Southern Command but then dropped due to lack of Obama administration support.
Republicans at the House Armed Services Committee inserted $69 million for the new “high-value detainee complex” in its spending bill Wednesday night that earmarked a total of $93 million for new construction at the prison camps in Cuba.
The move is the latest in the legislative tug-of-war with the White House over President Barack Obama’s blocked ambition to close the prison camps where some 2,200 soldiers and civilian staff are responsible for the last 154 war-on-terror captives at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
Construction, however, is not certain. The money could be removed from the legislation as the massive National Defense Authorization Bill goes through the full Congress. The same funding bill also forbids the transfer of any Guantanamo prisoner to the United States for trial or further detention.
U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the second-highest-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee after retiring Chairman Buck McKeon of California, argued for the new secret prison at the committee meeting that approved the bill Wednesday night. He announced that the U.S. Army notified Congress more than a year ago that it was designing a new “high-value detainee complex at Guantanamo Bay.”
At Guantanamo, the military calls the complex Camp 7 and says it’s built on a clandestine location at the 45-square-mile Navy base and run by a secret U.S. Army unit called Task Force Platinum.
“The one they have now is falling apart,” Thornberry announced Wednesday.
Camp 7 is where the military houses 15 former CIA prisoners, including six men awaiting death penalty trials — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the alleged plotter of al-Qaida’s 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole destroyer, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.
They were sent to Guantanamo’s Camp 7 in 2006. But because the military considers all aspects of the said-to-be failing prison building to be classified, it is not known how much was spent on the current Camp 7, when it was built or by what contractor.
Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which runs the detention center, had been lobbying for the new prison for more than a year. But the Defense Department declined to include the new building project in its proposed 2015 budget, leaving the military to say its engineers would reinforce the secret building rather than build a new one.
Then Wednesday, Thornberry revived the issue by reading from what he described as a communication from the Department of the Army:
“Existing facilities have far exceeded their service life expectancy and are deteriorating rapidly. The inefficiencies experienced in proper separation, seclusion and control of the occupants put Joint Task Force Guantanamo staff at risk … If this project is not funded detainees will continue to be housed in facilities that will degrade to the point of risking failure to meet operational, life and health-safety standards.”