On our way to a barbecue dinner where the ceiling fell in, we blew a tire.
The two events here at Guantanamo Bay were not related, nor were they exactly big news in a week when a fresh set of hearings is getting underway for the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. But they prompted me to wonder: what future is there for this aging high-security detention facility on the eastern tip of Cuba?
Guantanamo was not built to last. When US officials started scooping up men in the Afghanistan invasion and from neighboring Pakistan and bringing hundreds of them here in 2002, they “never thought in a million years” that the whole operation would still be chugging away at the end of 2013.
The defense lawyers who invited a group of us trial observers over for dinner never thought a piece of their kitchen ceiling would fall in just as the burgers came off the backyard barbecue. And we didn't expect to be delayed by a flat tire on our military-chauffeured minivan.
Flat tires happen everywhere, of course. And this is not to complain about housing and transport conditions when 160 men have been imprisoned for more than a decade just on the other side of the compound, with more than 100 hunger-striking this year in protest. To be held without charge is a horrendous condition indeed.
But upkeep of the Guantanamo detention complex is becoming a real issue. It’s expensive. The courtroom where the hearings begin today cost US$12 million to build, and was designed to be state-of-the-art, as we were told twice by the Officer In Charge of the Office of Military Commissions, a former lawyer and failed hotelier named John Imhof.
Military officials were hoping for nearly US$200 million more to renovate this place, including $49 million for a new high-security facility. But Congress may have a shrinking appetite for such expenditures. A compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, passed last week by the House of Representatives and due to be voted on in the Senate this week, would not allocate a single dime for upgrading Guantanamo.
It’s the right move. The US government should never have begun prosecuting alleged terrorists in makeshift courtrooms here to begin with. The legal standards of the military commissions at Guantanamo have improved over time, but they still fall far short of the standards in federal courts.
That’s where alleged terrorists should be prosecuted. Let the detention complex at Guantanamo fall to wrack and ruin and flat tires. That’s where it belongs.