SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The Pentagon will not try to use emergency powers to build a compound to hold war-crimes trials at Guantanamo Bay, according to a member of a Senate panel that oversees funding for military construction projects.
The U.S. Defense Department notified Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, that it canceled a contract solicitation to build the new courthouse complex at the isolated base in southeast Cuba because of concerns about the location and funds for the facility, according to a statement from her office.
"I thank the department for postponing plans to build a permanent courthouse at Guantanamo Bay," Feinstein said in the late Friday statement. "It's important this courthouse proceed through regular order, with public hearings, so that there is full knowledge of what is intended."
The Defense Department recently sent a letter to Congress announcing its intention to fast-track the Guantanamo complex by reallocating US$102 million (euro77 million) of its authorized funds by invoking its emergency powers to bypass congressional approval, according to Feinstein.
A Pentagon spokesman gave no specific details about the cancellation, which was first reported by The Miami Herald on Sunday, but said that due to the scope and complexity of the trials for terror suspects, additional infrastructure and personnel remains a much-needed addition at Guantanamo.
"We will continue working with the Congress to ensure that unlawful enemy combatants at Guantanamo can be brought to justice as expeditiously as possible," Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said in a Sunday e-mail. "We do not want a lack of facilities to be a reason for delaying the process of bringing these dangerous enemy combatants to justice."
Among the terror suspects expected to face war crimes trials at Guantanamo are 14 "high-value" detainees who were recently transferred from secret CIA custody. They include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Abu Zubaydah, believed to be a link between Usama bin Laden and many Al Qaeda cells.
The proposed compound, designed to accommodate as many as 1,200 people, would create a total of three courtrooms on the military base to allow for simultaneous trials, and a separate high-security area to house the detainees facing trial.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler said last month that the government hoped to begin construction of the facility, which represents one of the biggest upgrades to the Guantanamo detention center since it began taking in suspected enemy combatants, in January 2002.