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Price of new, secret Gitmo prison rises $20 million in a year

A detainee is escorted to the detainee hospital at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for care by the medical group on Oct. 28, 2010.

The proposed price of an exclusive new prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rose by $20 million in a year because designers added meeting rooms and a medical clinic for 15 former CIA captives, including accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a military spokesman said Monday.

Last year, the military estimated it would cost $49 million to build a new Camp 7, Guantanamo’s name for its clandestine high-value detainee lockup. Last week, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee earmarked $69 million in its proposed budget for 2015 Defense Department spending to build the new prison.

Construction is not assured because the full Congress has yet to take up the budget.

“The original estimated cost was made pre-site-selection,” said Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the detention center that holds 154 terrorism suspects and a 2,200-member staff.

Now, blueprints also include a “medical facility, attorney-client meeting rooms and support with utilities, connecting to the utility grid,” Julian said. He added that the military considers it safer to keep the captives in one place rather than move them around the detention center for meetings and services.

SOUTHCOM’s commander, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, has been bullish on the building project because, according to those who have seen it, the current clandestine Camp 7 is on shifting ground in a secret location on the 45-square-mile naval base.

Now the floor has cracks, according to the prison commander, Navy Rear Adm. Richard Butler, prompting fears that the walls will crack and doors won’t work.

The Pentagon chose not to ask to build a new prison, and didn’t include it in its proposed budget for 2015. Instead, military engineers were told to shore up the old site, a plan that some members of Congress found unsatisfactory and decided to a fund a new building.

Little is known about the current Camp 7 — not the year it was built, not who built it and not how much it cost. (The Miami Herald has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain that information.)

It has at least two tiers and is run by a unit called Task Force Platinum, according to court testimony. Detainees who got to Guantanamo in 2006 from three and four years in overseas CIA prisons are kept one man to a cell in what captive Ammar al Baluchi’s attorney, Jay Connell, described as “extreme isolation.”

In February 2009, a senior Pentagon official said Camp 7 has climate-controlled cells, a recreation yard surrounded by a chain-link fence and rooms where detainees can watch videos and play with hand-held games. That official, Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, was inspecting the prison for Geneva Conventions compliance, and likened Camp 7 to a “supermax” prison in the United States.

The new building would be in some respects safer for the guard force, Julian said, because they’d be spared the task of moving the high-value captives out of their compound to the current attorney-client meeting rooms at Camp Echo.

The use of Camp Echo, described by The Washington Post in 2004 as a former CIA black site, has been controversial at the war court. In early 2013, defense attorneys in the 9/11 and USS Cole cases learned that the military had listening devices hidden there, raising concerns about attorney-client confidentiality.

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