U.S. military to expand Cuban prison for terror suspects
WASHINGTON -- With captures of terrorist suspects expected to keep mounting, the U.S. military is planning to build more cells at its high-security prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The permanent jail at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station -- the main military facility for holding and interrogating suspects -- is nearly full, with 564 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners from the campaign in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Pentagon has accepted bids and expects to award a contract within days for construction of 200 more units at the 600-cell facility, known as Camp Delta, officials said Thursday on condition of anonymity.
The military also has about 80 detainees at a base in Bagram, Afghanistan, some of whom it would like to transfer to Cuba. An unknown number of others are held by U.S. forces in undisclosed locations, and still undisclosed others are under the control of the CIA and foreign governments, defense officials said.
The Cuba facility -- as well as the administration's holding of prisoners without charges nor access to lawyers -- has drawn criticism from human and civil rights groups. The government declines to categorize those being held as prisoners of war with attending rights.
, saying they're not legitimate combatants as defined under international treaty.
Though most gains recently announced by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have been in uncovering weapons rather than people, officials expect to keep rooting out Taliban and al-Qaida in the now nine-month-old campaign.
Estimates of those still in pockets of resistance in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan range from hundreds to thousands, Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., said at a Pentagon press conference Wednesday with spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.
"You know, lately it's been a lot of small pockets of them," Clarke said.
Nonetheless, she said, "They exist, and we're going to continue to go after them."
Capture are continuing not only inside Afghanistan but in other countries as well. Naval coalition forces in the Afghan campaign, meanwhile, have picked up four detainees this month at sea, after eight months of not finding anyone in their ship interdiction program.
Though the new construction at Camp Delta would mean space for more than 800 people, officials previously have said they may expand the prison eventually to hold 2,000.
But there also was some hope the United States might not have to take long-term responsibility for large numbers of prisoners. Officials have said some might be sent home for prosecution by their own governments, others put before newly created U.S. military tribunals, and some held indefinitely.
There's been no word on planned prosecutions, and interrogations have gone more slowly than expected. Officials have said Americans want to continue to hold and question the detainees for information that would help prevent further attacks by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida members or help find them and other terrorists.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld talked to reporters about the quandary late last month when he was asked whether the United States might release detainees determined to have little intelligence value.
On one hand, Guantanamo prison was nearing capacity, he said, and he was "not enamored of the idea of taking the taxpayer's money and building a lot more jail cells." On the other hand, prisoners who seem of little value now could turn out to be useful later, he said, adding that many have lied and changed their stories repeatedly but may decide to cooperate after time.
They are believed to come from some three dozen nations. However, prisoner stonewalling and deception has left interrogators uncertain of the true identities and nationalities of dozens, officials say.
The money spent on detentions in Cuba through April 20 included $19 million for operations and $34 million for construction, said Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen.
The cost of the additional cells couldn't be learned Thursday.
At least a dozen governments say they'd like to prosecute their own citizens. Some say they're happy to let the United States keep the men because they're unsure if they have laws under which to successfully try the suspects.
Among lawsuits on the U.S. detentions is one for 11 Kuwaiti prisoners and another in which a coalition of clergy, lawyers and professors wants the government to allow the prisoners lawyers, bring them before a U.S. court, acknowledge their identity and define the charges against them.