A new place for guards to eat at the United States-operated detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will stand for 20 years.
Planned housing structures for soldiers at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo are meant to last 50 years.
And leaders at the Department of Defense have asked Congress to approve money for a new prison on the part of Cuba controlled by the U.S.
The new prison would be a supermax prison – a high security jail for prisoners the U.S. government considers more dangerous than any others. It is to be designed with the understanding that its prisoners will grow old and weak there. Some prisoners may remain without even being convicted of crime.
In January 2002, then-president George W. Bush established the center in order to hold the suspects of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Bush’s government argued that the prisoners should not be held on American soil and should not be protected by American Constitutional rights.
When the original prison opened officials did not know how long the U.S. planned to use it.
In the following years, the international community grew very angry over the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. Critics considered the methods used to question people suspected of involvement with al-Qaida and the Taliban to be far too extreme.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled that anyone held at Guantanamo is able to have the reasons for their being detained argued in American courts. This decision proved one of the main reasons for using Guantanamo in the first place to be pointless.
In 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama claimed he would close the controversial detention center. However, as president he never did.
Then, in January of this year, President Donald Trump announced an order keeping the prison open and permitting the Defense Department to bring in new prisoners. That order is leading U.S. military officials at the Pentagon to consider a future for the detention center.
What the future could hold
Officials talked about the plans in an unusually open way when a group of news reporters recently visited the base. There, 40 men are still being held behind tall fences topped with sharp metal wire on the southeastern coast of Cuba.
Army Colonel Stephen Gabavics is the commander of the guard force at Guantanamo. In early June, Gabavics told reporters that military officials are making long-term plans for the prisoners.
“We ultimately have to plan for whether or not they are going to be here for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Admiral John Ring is the commander of the force that runs the jail. He told reporters his responsibilities will continue into the foreseeable future.
“So I have all sorts of structures that I have been neglecting or just getting by with that now I’ve got to replace,” he said.
Pentagon officials want at least $69 million to replace Camp 7, a supermax structure that holds 15 men. These men are all considered “high-value detainees” and were previously held as prisoners by the Central Intelligence Agency. They include five men facing trial in military court for planning and aiding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
If they are found guilty, these five men could get the death penalty, meaning they will be executed for their crimes. But the case has been delayed by pre-trial proceedings for years. Also, any decision as to their guilt would likely bring years of appeals.
Officials say Camp 7 needs major repairs. The walls are damaged and the base of the building is sinking. They say it is not able to hold men who will likely remain there for many years to come.
The new unit would be known as Camp 8. The prisoner holding areas would have doors wide enough for medical equipment to pass through. The unit would also have shared areas so aging prisoners could help each other as they grow old.
The White House has supported the proposal for the improvements, but it is not known whether Congress will approve it.
Gabavics noted that he and his team have a responsibility to care for the prisoners, no matter what the political situation in the U.S. is.
"We have the responsibility to provide for their safety, care and custody so all that we ask is that we get the resources we need to be able do that," he said.
Who is there
The 40 detainees left at Guantanamo include 5 whom Obama declared were acceptable to move to other prisons. However, Obama faced political opposition to the idea, and those men remain in place.
Of the rest, 9 have been charged in the military court system and are at different stages in proceedings. The other 26 have neither been charged nor approved for movement to another prison. They are being held in indefinite detention under what the U.S. argues are the international laws of war.
In early June, the military permitted news reporters a short visit inside Camp 6, where most of the prisoners are held. During the visit, the men walked around aimlessly and held late-afternoon prayers.
Attorney David Remes represents four prisoners. He said they are bored and angry.
"They are just waiting, waiting, waiting," he said.
Officials at the detention center said they could take in about 40 more male detainees without any changes to employee levels. They could take about 200 more if additional guards are brought in. No such request has come from the administration, Ring said. But he added that he has been asked some informal questions about the total number of prisoners the center can hold.
"We are not imminently expecting any new guests if you will," he said.
I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Alice Bryant.
The Associated Press first reported this story. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. What do you think the U.S. government should do with the men being held in Guantanamo Bay? What right does the military have in keeping the detention center open? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
original – adj. happening or existing first or at the beginning
controversial – adj. relating to or causing much discussion, disagreement, or argument
ultimately – adv. at the end of a process, period of time, etc.
foreseeable – adj. able to be seen or repdicted
previously – adv. in the past; before
neglect(ing) – adj. to fail to take care of or to give attention to someone or something
proceedings – n. the process of appearing before a court of law so a decision can be made about an argument or claim : a legal action
custody – n. the state of being kept in a prison or jail
indefinite – adj. not certain in amount or length
attorney – n. a person whose job is to guide and assist people in matters relating to the law
bored – adj. tired and annoyed by doing uninteresting things or too much of the same things
informal – adj. not suited for serious or official speech and writing
imminently – adv. in a way that is happening very soon