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Guantánamo Bay Prison Mission Is Stuck in a Cycle of Costly Delays

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GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — Fungus was growing in a recent $10 million tiny-house village being assembled at Camp Justice, the military court compound at Guantánamo Bay that has been troubled by mold for years. So plans to deal with lawyers assigned to the Sept. 11 case there have been postponed until late next yr.

Elsewhere on the bottom, an M.R.I. device suffered a “catastrophic failure” from neglect through the pandemic, in accordance with court testimony. The military now intends to lease one through a process that would drag on for months.

At a 3rd site, construction of a $115 million dormitory is a yr behind schedule. It is supposed to deal with soldiers assigned to the prison, an operation that employs 41 guards and civilians for every detainee.

Greater than 20 years have passed for the reason that George W. Bush administration brought the primary detainees to this distant outpost in southeast Cuba 4 months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was a makeshift, temporary mission, and it continues to be being run that way — “expeditionary style,” because the military calls it.

Through the years, the Guantánamo prison has cost $7 billion and has housed 780 detainees and tens of hundreds of troops on mostly yearlong or shorter tours of duty. Even now, with just 36 detainees on the prison, each costs $13 million a yr.

When a brigadier general from the Michigan National Guard becomes the twenty first commander later this yr, he’ll inherit lots of the same challenges as those that commanded before him: moldy, unsafe buildings; an outsize prison staff; and ailing, aging detainees, some still suffering the results of torture in C.I.A. prisons 20 years ago.

“At Guantánamo, they continually put Band-Aids on as a substitute of coming up with realistic solutions,” said retired Brig. Gen. John G. Baker, who as a Marine lawyer oversaw military defense teams at Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

He said detainee operations suffer “in some respects from among the same problems we had in Iraq and Afghanistan, where planning was too often the length of a deployment cycle. There’s continually a short lived mind-set to what has turn out to be a everlasting problem.”

The high costs are attributable partially to the big rotating work force — the prison calls staff members “war fighters” — at Guantánamo, which has 6,000 residents, hotels, bars, a K-12 school, suburban-style neighborhoods and a community hospital. Problems have also arisen due to the stop-and-go nature of planning for a detention operation that one president vowed to shut and one other pledged to grow, neither reaching his goal.

The Bush administration brought in all 780 detainees, then reduced the prison population to about 240. President Barack Obama’s team found places for about 200, but Congress thwarted his administration’s plan to transfer the last 41 prisoners to the USA.

Today, there are 36 detainees, including the one prisoner serving a life sentence, a Yemeni man. The youngest is in his late 30s. Lawyers for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and 4 other men accused of being his accomplices are in secret talks to resolve the case by allowing them to plead guilty in exchange for all times sentences.

Twenty-one of the detainees have been approved for transfer with security assurances. If U.S. diplomats find places to send them, that might leave 15 men on the prison.

The troubled construction was years within the making, as planning didn’t keep pace with the fact on the bottom.

The $115 million barracks project offers an illustration.

The constructing was first proposed in 2013 by Gen. John F. Kelly, the Marine commander who had oversight of the prison and was championing quality-of-life improvements for the 1,900 prison staff members. Back then, Guantánamo held 166 detainees, for a ratio of 11 troops and civilians for each prisoner.

The Obama administration, which desired to wind down prison operations, didn’t support the investment. Congress agreed to fund it in 2017 only after Donald J. Trump became president and vowed to refill the prison, an ambition he never realized.

Construction began three years later, within the midst of the pandemic.

It’ll accommodate 848 soldiers on nine-month deployments in suites, two “war fighters” sharing a rest room. But it’ll not be ready before October 2023. A Navy spokeswoman blamed the delay, vaguely, on “unexpected conditions” involving underground banks of ducts for base electricity and communications, “which have been addressed.”

Some projects were accomplished through the pandemic, mostly those who profit the bottom, not the detainee mission. Contractors built a recent section of road past the outdoor cinema and McDonald’s and finished a recent $65 million school for sailors’ children. The bottom just dedicated a recent post office inside an older constructing that took $3 million and 18 months to renovate.

But projects related to detainee operations weren’t as successful. Consider the case of the M.R.I. machine, which the military purchased for $1.65 million in 2012 as a part of a long-term technique to take care of aging detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

It arrived five years later, after a military judge ordered an M.R.I. study of the brain of the defendant in the usS. Cole bombing case. Brain damage, no matter whether it’s explicitly linked to torture in C.I.A. detention, may mean the difference between a life or death sentence for a convicted defendant.

The U.S. Southern Command had diverted the machine to an Army hospital in Georgia.

At Guantánamo, the five-year-old device was troubled from the beginning, often out of service before it broke beyond repair through the pandemic.

“It was well-known to be an issue,” Dr. Corry Jeb Kucik, a Navy captain serving as chief medical officer at the bottom, testified in June. “It was avoidable but not necessarily predictable.”

The military will now lease one other machine, together with maintenance and delivery — one other expeditionary solution to a long-term problem.

Doctors on the bottom have been overusing CT scans for years, Captain Kucik testified, by his calculation exposing prisoners to higher than the lifetime advisable amounts of radiation and increasing their risks of developing cancer.

“Since it is the imaging modality that’s form of the default, there’s a risk that, , you possibly can see cancers developing due to overuse or, , use in lieu of another modality that might be equally effective, possibly superior, and fewer dangerous to the patient,” he said.

Captain Kucik was testifying within the case of a disabled prisoner, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, in his 60s, who has had five surgeries on his back at Guantánamo Bay and wishes an imaging study before he gets a sixth operation. America is obliged under the Geneva Conventions to satisfy the medical needs of its war prisoners, and a military judge recently asked when a recent M.R.I. machine would arrive.

The military has long addressed Guantánamo detention operations as an issue to be solved episodically, starting to start with, when Navy engineer built recent cells at Camp X-Ray just days ahead of airlifts bringing recent detainees from Afghanistan.

The thought of constructing today’s troubled tiny-house village emerged through the Trump administration, before prosecutors invited lawyers within the Sept. 11 case to have interaction in plea talks. The tiny houses were meant to accommodate legal teams and a jury if a military judge could wade through a decade of pretrial complications within the case and start a death-penalty trial that was predicted to last a yr.

Months into the pandemic, planners within the Office of Military Commissions decided to buy about 150 single-occupancy, 375-square-foot “Casitas,” tiny houses from a Las Vegas firm named Boxabl that was in its earliest days.

“We didn’t actually have a factory or anything,” said Galiano Tiramani, who established the business together with his father. “It was just me and my dad.”

The Tiramanis acquired a warehouse and hired 100 staff to construct, compact and truck the 30-by-20-foot shrink-wrapped containers to Jacksonville, Fla., for the military to ship by barge to Guantánamo Bay. Cost to taxpayers: about $65,000 each, excluding site and infrastructure preparation, which continues to be underway.

Each container held a folded-up tiny house with finished flooring, a rest room, kitchen and cabinetry. Assembly, in accordance with the corporate, might be done in an hour.

At Guantánamo, it has taken months to put in the primary 50 atop a cracked old airstrip. For reasons that spokesmen on the war court are unwilling to elucidate, something went mistaken during assembly, and through heavy rains water sloshed inside. By the point reporters were permitted a visit in July, staff had hammered plastic sheeting onto the roofs of the primary 50 or so units while awaiting supplies for more substantial fixes.

Inside, reporters saw rusty hinges, mold and fungus spreading across cabinetry. Ron Flesvig, a spokesman for the war court, declined to say how much the repairs would cost and what number of houses would require renovating.

“Nobody will probably be assigned billeting in any unit until all safety and habitability standards are met,” he said.

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