Pentagon budget includes $69M to replace top-secret detainee section at Gitmo

Pentagon budget includes $69M to replace top-secret detainee section at Gitmo
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The Pentagon is requesting $69 million to replace the top-secret portion of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility that houses 15 “high-value” detainees, including the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The request, first reported Tuesday by the Miami Herald, was part of the Pentagon’s overall $686 billion budget request for fiscal year 2019, which was released Monday.

“Existing facilities have far exceeded their service life expectancy and are deteriorating rapidly,” Army budget documents read. “If this project is not provided, detainees will continue to be housed in facilities that will degrade to the point of risking failure to meet operational and life, health and safety standards.”

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The budget request comes weeks after President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE reaffirmed his desire to keep Guantanamo open and potentially send new detainees there by signing an executive order that rescinds former President Obama’s order to close the facility. Trump’s order also requires Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMattis says he'll dispatch Navy hospital ship to help Venezuelan migrants Pentagon, GOP breathe sign of relief after Trump cancels parade Overnight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at M MORE to provide recommendations on how to handle any potential newly captured individuals.

Current White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE had pushed for the construction outlined Monday when he was the general in charge of U.S. Southern Command in 2014. But the idea went nowhere then, as the Obama administration’s goal was to close Guantanamo.

Guantanamo’s high-value section, known as Camp 7, houses accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, along with four other alleged 9/11 conspirators and the accused mastermind of the USS Cole bombing. All are awaiting trial by military commission.

Also housed there are an Iraqi on trial for commanding insurgents in Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion there and a Pakistani who pleaded guilty to war crimes and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining detainees in Camp 7 are currently not charged with war crimes.

According to the Army documents, the design phase of the new project would end in January, a construction contract would be awarded in May 2019 and construction would start in July 2019. It would be done in July 2022.

The new building would be 25,000 square feet, according to the budget document. The document does not specify how many people that would be able to hold.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to “load” Guantanamo “up with bad dudes,” but no one new has been sent there since he took office last year.

But the debate over what to do with recently captured Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters has heated up as the U.S. military continues to hold in detention an American citizen, known only as John Doe, who was captured in Syria and as U.S.-backed fighters in Syria hold hundreds of foreign fighters.

Most recently, the Syrian Democratic Forces captured two men who were part of an ISIS cell known as "The Beatles" because of their English accents. U.S. officials have said that Guantanamo is not an option for the two men and that they’d prefer foreign fighters be taken by their home countries for prosecution.

“We're working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees, and generally expect these detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition," Kathryn Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant Defense secretary for international security affairs, told reporters traveling with Mattis on Sunday ahead of an anti-ISIS coalition meeting.

"Defense ministers have the obligation and the opportunity to really explain to their other ministers or their other Cabinet officials just the importance to the mission, to the campaign, to make sure that there's an answer to this problem."