WASHINGTON — The United States Southern Command is requesting up to $170 million to construct an additional prison building, new barracks and a new mess hall in for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention camp.
The new prison was part of an appeal made by General John F. Kelly of the Southern Command to the Armed Services Committee to provide funds via a taxpayer bill, including funds for a $49 million prison building.
“Guantanamo was built to be a temporary facility 11 years ago, if we’d had any idea we were even going to be there even five years doing the operations down there that have changed significantly, as you know, over the years,” Kelly said in a testimony to the Armed Services Committee. “If we’d have known we were going to be down there five years even we would have built a different facility.”
The detention camp, which opened in January of 2002, was never meant to function as long as it has, Gen. Kelly said, and is not a facility with an 11-year lifetime but rather a one-year facility that has been used 11 times.
“All these temporary buildings, for the most part, are falling apart,” Kelly said. “We really need to get serious about taking care of our troops that are down there as well as improving security.”
Kelly acknowledged that $170 million is a significant amount but explained that everything constructed in Guantanamo is twice as expensive than the average construction project because of transport of materials and workers.
“A 10 penny nail costs 20 cents,” Kelly said.
The New York Times reported the new building would likely replace Camp 7, a secretive facility not often spoken about to the press.
“These other projects that I can’t talk about here in the open do have to do with replacing one of the camp facilities,” Kelly said to the committee.
According to Kelly, this camp facility would house “special detainees.”
The renovations and construction would take place in order to improve facilities for troops and employees at the detention camp, not to provide additional resources for detainees, Kelly said, who are living “humanely and comfortably.” The 1,900 personnel at Guantanamo are living in a “pretty questionable” environment, Kelly said. The mess hall, which prepares food for both personnel and detainees, was described as falling apart.
“These are things we have to do right now,” Kelly said.
President Barack Obama vowed to shut down the controversial prison when he took office in 2009 amid serious allegations of maltreatment of the facilities 166 detainees.
“I continue to believe that operating the facility weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and strengthening our enemies,” President Obama said in a January statement.
In December 2010, Congress voted 212-206 to maintain the facility and continue the ban of detainee transfers to the U.S despite the president’s campaign to shutter Guantanamo.
"I’m assuming Guantanamo will be closed someday,” Kelly said. “But if you look at the past 11 years when it was supposed to be temporary, who knows where it’s going.”
Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, who also questioned medical facilities on Guantanamo Bay, said with the current standing of the detention camp, advancements should be made to prepare for the future.
“We hate to invest military construction down there if you think that place isn’t going to stay open very long but we’ve reached the point where we have to because it is open and its going to be open for the foreseeable future regardless of how any one of us feels about that.”