The $12 million Expeditionary Legal Complex was completed in May instead of a proposed $100 million permanent structure that Gates rejected in February 2007. Air Force Maj. Gail E. Crawford of the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions said Guantanamo is not bound by law to be the site of the war crimes trials.
The courthouse downsizing was one of several signs that the Pentagon wants to get rid of the detention center, which has drawn international condemnation. Only one detainee has been transferred to Guantanamo this year and five in 2007, compared to almost 800 in previous years.
“We are making concerted efforts to decrease the population at Guantanamo,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. “We have no desire to be the world’s jailers, as we have often stated.”
Defense lawyers want the detention center closed and say the war crimes trials are unfair because they allow evidence obtained under harsh interrogations, even possibly by waterboarding, and permit hearsay. They say the prisoners include innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were sold to U.S. forces for bounties.
“President Bush, our commander in chief, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, started the U.S. down a slippery slope, a path that quickly descended, stopping briefly in the dark, Machiavellian world of ‘the ends justify the means,’ before plummeting further into the bleak underworld of barbarism and cruelty, of anything goes, of torture,” attorney Air Force Maj. David Frakt said in military court last month. Frakt represents an Afghan detainee who, records show, was subjected to sleep deprivation at Guantanamo months after he attempted suicide.
Men were first held here in cages, then in shipping containers, then in barracks fronting a dusty courtyard and finally also in maximum-security lockups modeled after U.S. prisons.
“The same skill set that allowed Guantanamo to build up in a very frantic situation will serve it well when it comes time to go the other way,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey M. Johnston, who drew up initial plans for the detention center on a yellow legal notepad after being told in December 2001 that the first detainees would soon be headed over.
Guantanamo Bay, which was first taken by U.S. Marines in the Spanish-American War, has seen many mission expansions and contractions. In the early 1990s, it housed tens of thousands of Haitian boat people. Johnston said if the detention center is closed, some facilities — like buildings where guards and interrogators live — could be repurposed.
Former President Jimmy Carter, in an e-mail to The Associated Press, expressed his own ideas of what to do with the detention center. The Nobel laureate is a sharp critic of Guantanamo who charges that the indefinite detention of hundreds of men has fueled animosity toward the U.S.
“After it has been emptied, perhaps the facility should be closed forever, or made into a museum where people can study the importance of respecting the Geneva Conventions and other human rights treaties,” Carter said.
Well-known South African scholar and political commentator Adam Habib is being kept out of the United States because he has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the American Civil Liberties Union charged in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston. More »
This page on the international nonprofit agency's Web site compiles opinion pieces addressing the U.S. government's operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, information on U.S. counterterrorism efforts after 9/11, alleged human rights abuses against Guantanamo detainees and more. More »
The Naval Web site for America's "oldest overseas U.S. Naval Station and the only one in a country with which the U.S. does not maintain diplomatic relations" also contains a downloadable version of The Guantanamo Gazette, the base's newspaper. NOTE: The report is in PDF format, and Adobe Reader is required to read it. You can download the latest version here. More »