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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Legal Times October 04, 2004

U.S. Building New Prisons for Terrorists

Construction of Guantanamo jails signals long-term plans for base

By Vanessa Blum

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- The government is building for the long haul in the war on terror.

The Defense Department plans to construct a permanent medium-security prison facility here as part of an effort to transform the U.S. naval base from a makeshift detention camp to a state-of-the-art penitentiary for terrorist agents the government considers too dangerous to set free.

The 200-bed compound, known as Camp Six, is expected to cost $24 million and will be the base's second permanent prison structure. The first, a 100-cell, super-max style facility known as Camp Five, opened in April.

Together, the two structures represent the future of Guantanamo Bay, which is being retooled to house those prisoners found to pose a continuing threat to the United States.

"If your threat level is high and your intelligence value is high, you're probably going to live here for awhile," says Army Brig. Gen. Martin Lucenti, deputy commanding general of the joint task force in charge of detentions at Guantanamo Bay.

Over time, prisoners determined not to meet that standard will be transferred from the base to their home countries. By paring down the prison population to the "worst of the worst" -- those who have been convicted of war crimes or have deep ties to al Qaeda -- the Bush administration hopes to appease international critics, satisfy the federal courts, and improve an installation that has been roundly criticized for inadequate facilities and alleged prisoner abuses.

"We need to find a way to use Guantanamo that accounts for the reality of the war on terror and wins the approval of the international community," Lucenti says.

Camp Six will be built by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root as part of a $500 million Pentagon contract for emergency construction worldwide.

Roughly 550 prisoners are currently held at Guantanamo Bay. The majority reside in Camp Delta, where they are kept in rows of metal-mesh cells, 6 feet by 8 feet. About 100 of the most compliant prisoners are housed in communal structures, where they live 10 to a room and eat as a group. To date, 202 prisoners have been transferred off the base -- 146 for release and 56 to the control of other governments.

Efforts to weed out and release detainees who are well-behaved and have little to offer interrogators have accelerated since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case brought on behalf of Guantanamo prisoners. The Court ruled that the government cannot hold enemy combatants indefinitely without affording them a meaningful chance to challenge their detentions. Last month, 46 detainees were transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Pakistan and Afghanistan, leaving the current population at its lowest level since June 2002.

But the administration has no plans to abandon Guantanamo Bay, which has the advantage of being U.S.-controlled territory far removed from the mainland. Rather, the government intends to fortify its facilities here and ultimately place all remaining detainees in permanent structures.

Military law expert Eugene Fidell says the administration may still be figuring out how to use the naval base most effectively. "Guantanamo Bay has been a prison in search of a theme, and it's continuing to morph," says Fidell, a partner in the D.C. office of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell. "What it's morphing into now is the human equivalent of Yucca Mountain radioactive waste facility -- built to last 10,000 years."


From the air, Camp Five looks like a wheel with five spokes radiating off a central hub. The $31 million compound, which is home to 50 of Guantanamo Bay's most disruptive and violent inmates, was modeled after a super-max prison at the Miami Correctional Facility, about 60 miles north of Indianapolis, Ind.

Prisoners live in solitary 9-foot by 12-foot cells and have little human contact. They are permitted to exercise outdoors in a small fenced-in area for one hour every other day and are removed from the premises only for medical emergencies. Cameras in each cell allow guards to monitor detainees from a central control room -- eliminating the need for a large cadre of military police.

While detailed plans have been drawn up for Camp Six, construction is unlikely to begin before the end of the year. Like Camp Five, Camp Six will be a modern prison facility that comports with industry standards set by the American Corrections Association. Such standards, promulgated to ensure the safety of inmates and guards, address everything from mandated training procedures for prison staff to the lighting level of prison cells.

Miami Correctional Facility Superintendent John VanNatta, who ran detention operations at Guantanamo Bay from November 2002 until October 2003 and helped design Camp Six, says the new prison will be oriented toward long-term incarceration, as well as rehabilitation. VanNatta, an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, declined to elaborate on plans for Camp Six.

"The mission in Cuba is totally different than the mission in ordinary corrections," he says. "All we're trying to do is get as much intelligence as we possibly can."

Francois Boo, an analyst for the Alexandria, Va., think tank GlobalSecurity.org, says the investment in permanent structures at Guantanamo Bay reflects the administration's long-range plans.

"When they first started shipping detainees to Guantanamo Bay, they were held in Camp X-Ray, a very crude facility. They improved on that by building Camp Delta," says Boo. "If they are considering building facilities that look more like regular penitentiaries, I would guess they intend on keeping those guys for a long time."

Since January 2002, Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root unit has performed more than $50 million in construction projects at Guantanamo Bay. The work is performed under a Pentagon contract for emergency construction work worldwide known as ConCap, short for Contingency Construction Capabilities Contract.

The contract was devised in the mid-1990s so that military units could quickly obtain construction and engineering services in response to natural disasters, military operations, humanitarian emergencies, and other crises. At the time a ConCap contract is awarded, it is not known precisely what work a company will be required to perform.

The first such contract went to Perini International of Framingham, Mass., and J.A. Jones Management Services of Charlotte, N.C., in 1995. The second, ConCap II, was awarded to KBR in 2001. With payments under that contract close to reaching its $300 million ceiling, a third ConCap contract, this one with a ceiling of $500 million, was given to KBR in July.

The Pentagon agency in charge of the ConCap contract would not disclose how many other companies were considered for the new contract. According to news reports, three firms, including KBR, were considered for ConCap II.


The new prison may one day be home to detainees convicted of war crimes before military commissions. So far, 15 detainees have been slated to face trial before the commissions and four have been officially charged. The first military commission proceedings were held in August.

With construction of Camp Six, the capacity of Guantanamo Bay's prisons will reach 1,300. But Pentagon officials say they intend to reduce, not grow, the prison population.

In recent months, two separate processes have been implemented to streamline the evaluation of detainees. The first verifies each prisoner held here is an enemy combatant -- someone who fought with the Taliban or al Qaeda against the United States or allied forces. To date, 63 reviews have been completed. One prisoner was found not to be an enemy combatant and was returned to Pakistan.

The second process, which Pentagon officials hope to begin before the end of the year, will evaluate each prisoner classified as an enemy combatant on an annual basis to determine whether the detainee continues to pose a threat to the United States or continues to possess valuable intelligence. In each case, a three-member panel will recommend continued detention, transfer to the custody of another government, or release.

"We have thought our way through this very carefully, certainly since the Supreme Court decision," says Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo Bay task force. "Every step needs to be in place to provide a fair process to every detainee. . . . We don't wish to detain anyone any longer than is necessary."

Human rights advocates say the Pentagon should be doing more to release prisoners, not planning for their long-term detention.

"There is no longer an international armed conflict between the governments of the United States and Afghanistan. The government needs to resolve the cases of those held at Guantanamo either by prosecuting them for war crimes before a fair and impartial tribunal or arranging for detainees to be repatriated," says Wendy Patten, U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "Instead, the administration continues to claim the power to hold people without charges until terrorism is defeated."

From the Pentagon's perspective, releasing detainees has risks. Military officials at Guantanamo Bay claim seven individuals freed from the prison camp are known have returned to fight in Afghanistan. Last week, according to the Associated Press, a Danish man who was released from Guantanamo Bay in February told a television station in Denmark that he planned to make his way to Chechnya to fight on behalf of Islamic militants.

Hood, who replaced Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller as commander of the Guantanamo Bay joint task force in May, says he is committed to sending home detainees who are no longer of intelligence value.

But those detainees who are considered dangerous or who have not cooperated with interrogators won't be going anywhere any time soon.

"I believe it would be very dangerous to release them," Hood says. "These are men who have the capability toplan, organize, and lead significant attacks."

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