Pentagon seeks to expand war-court compound at Guantanamo

Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: October 11, 2015

MIAMI (Tribune News Service) — Pentagon officials are proposing a $3 million expansion of the war-court compound at Guantanamo, Camp Justice, and are preparing to handle more than the current seven active prosecutions by adding a wheelchair ramp at the airstrip and housing for a new case prosecutor, the Miami Herald has learned.

The plan does not eliminate the use of a hilltop building that has been a source of anxiety for some attorneys after a former defense attorney who worked there got cancer, and then died.

Instead, the Office of Military Commissions is seeking $75,000 for a site survey and engineering plan for the parking lot between the two courtroom buildings currently at Camp Justice, to design more defense workspace. Pentagon officials won’t discuss the proposal publicly because, with the president determined to close the detention center and some in Congress just as determined to make sure he doesn’t, the work is considered sensitive at the war court.

But the planning illustrates that, for some things at Guantanamo, the Pentagon is preparing for the long run. The next big change is expected in February when a $35 million fiber-optic connection between the base and Florida is scheduled to be activated.

At the court, managers are looking to expand work space for attorneys defending the six captives currently facing capital trials —in the 9/11 and USS Cole cases. The defense attorneys have long complained about insufficient space to work in the crude compound called the Expeditionary Legal Complex. It was built in 2007 and 2008 for about $12 million.

At issue, in part, is that the Pentagon assumed each captive would have at most six defense team members — lawyers, paralegals and a translator. Since then, because of the complexity and secrecy surrounding aspects of the death-penalty cases, the teams have grown to include a defense security officer to help handle classified information, analysts, mitigation experts and victim outreach specialists.

Because the defendants were held for years by the CIA, much of the casework is classified, meaning workspaces need to be secure and cannot be shared by different teams. So war court planners are seeking to add four more trailer-style offices that function as so-called SCIFs, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.

In addition, court management wants to add an evidence locker, more trailers for information technology staff, witnesses and bathrooms on the crude airstrip that houses Camp Justice, known as McCalla Field.

The cost for the work, according to those who have seen the proposal, could reach $3 million.

None of the work requires congressional approval, apparently, because the structures are considered temporary and could theoretically be dismantled and sent to the United States with the maximum-security courtroom — if the Pentagon chooses to use them for future military commissions.

Similarly, the compound’s trailer park and tent city could be dismantled and shipped to the United States with a sseclusion cell inside a tent that meets Bureau of Prisons standards — if a federal convict is brought to Guantanamo to testify.

The court is also shopping for a ramp to accommodate wheelchair-using air passengers at Guantanamo. The base airstrip already has a system for unloading handicapped military personnel and other disabled travelers. But the ramp is part of a plan to add other features compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a handicap-accessible van found in surplus Defense Department property and the acquisition of a former American Red Cross building elsewhere on the base.

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