GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The Biden administration has repeatedly said it wants to shut down detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay completely, but large-scale construction is still underway at the naval base’s “Camp Justice” to support the planned trial against the alleged plotters behind al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Wendy Kelly, the chief of operations for the Office of Military Commissions, agreed in a discussion with reporters that the Expeditionary Legal Complex, the island war court at the base, was her “brainchild.” The legal complex was constructed in 2007 and first used in 2008. When asked by the Washington Examiner how the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have responded to Biden’s desire to shut detainee operations down and whether she believed that a 9/11 trial will actually happen, Kelly gave the same answer: “OMC will follow the direction and guidance of the Department of Defense leadership. We continue to proceed towards trial.”
The detention facilities and terror court are just one part of the large naval base at Guantanamo Bay. It is possible some detainee operations are quietly winding down behind the scenes, but the construction at Camp Justice is visible and ongoing. Camp Justice is located on an unused airfield at the naval base. It is also the site where 9/11 pretrial hearings are being held and where a trial, if it occurs, will take place.
In the two decades since 19 al Qaeda terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and killed nearly 3,000 people, the five men believed to be responsible for the planning and execution of the attack have yet to stand trial. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, dubbed “KSM" and described as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” is being tried alongside four co-defendants.
Kelly said numerous construction projects to support the military commissions were ongoing and that “each project has separate timelines” but “all will be ready before trial begins.” She added that “OMC is constructing additional classified office space for the trial participants, a second sensitive compartmented information facility courtroom to allow multiple cases to proceed simultaneously, and additional billeting.” That included the purchase of individual housing units “similar to stand-alone studio apartments,” said Kelly, that will be installed between November and March. The media will stay in tents that have already been built and which Kelly said will be ready by Christmas.
The New York Times reported in October that the Defense Logistics Agency ordered the prefabricated housing “for $11.6 million.” The outlet added that “the prison is staffed with an undisclosed number of contractors, civilian Pentagon employees, and 1,500 U.S. troops” at “costs that in 2019 exceeded $13 million per year.”
Kelly said, “There were still a significant number of requirements which could not be met without acquiring new facilities,” and, "We elected to acquire relocatable buildings in lieu of permanent structures to save time and money.”
The 9/11 case has been delayed many times following unfavorable Supreme Court decisions under President George W. Bush and an abandoned effort by President Barack Obama to try the men in a New York City federal court, with President Donald Trump vowing to keep it open and President Joe Biden now quietly working to end detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay.
Approximately 780 total suspected terrorists are known to have been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, and it is believed that 39 suspected terrorists remain, according to the New York Times Guantanamo Docket tracker.
When asked in February about Biden’s intention to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison, press secretary Jen Psaki said: “That certainly is the goal, and our intention.” She reiterated that in June and July.
House Republicans who fought in the global war on terror told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in January they had "serious reservations" about the push to close the detention camp. Meanwhile, more than six dozen House Democrats sent Biden a letter in August urging him to close the prison.
In early September, Democrats blocked Republican amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have barred high-value Guantanamo Bay detainees from being brought to the U.S.
Kelly contended: “By the time trial starts, Camp Justice will become a residential area for over 200 people, with a mixture of billeting including the Individual Housing Units, OMC Containerized Housing Units, and tents.” She said there would even be “a small Naval Exchange” set up at Camp Justice “so that people can buy necessary items, food, and beverages without having to travel to the main Naval Exchange on the base.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified report in December on the terrorist “recidivism” of detainees that had been released. ODNI said that of the 729 detainees that had been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay as of August last year, 125, or 17.1%, were confirmed to be re-engaging in terrorism, while 104, or 14.3%, were suspected of it.
Four of the so-called “Taliban Five” have been named to key roles in the Taliban’s new “caretaker” government in Afghanistan after the militant leaders were released from detention at Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration in a prisoner exchange for U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy
Original Location: Biden wants to shut Gitmo down, but construction for 9/11 trial ramps up