- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanks to a multimillion-dollar federal contract, Guantanamo Bay prisoners can enroll in seminars to learn all about basic landscaping and pruning, calligraphy and Microsoft PowerPoint while the U.S. figures out what to do with them.

Prisoners also can get in touch with their artistic sides.

“At a minimum, the art seminar shall include water color painting, charcoal sketching, Arabic calligraphy, acrylic painting and pastel painting,” contract records reviewed by The Washington Times state.

The documents surfaced last week in a U.S. Court of Federal Claims lawsuit stemming from a dispute over a more than $5 million contract to provide library and seminar services to detainees at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The papers offer a glimpse at just how military detainees can pass the time while officials decide their fates.

President Obama is pushing once again to make good on his promise to shut down the prison, hoping to make it easier to transfer detainees out of the facility as part of the upcoming debate on the annual defense policy bill.

He will face strong opposition from congressional Republicans who argue that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains the best place to hold suspected terrorists.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Monday that Democrats support Mr. Obama’s request for more transfer authority but that the Republicans’ position will get a vote.

“We should have a debate on that and have a vote on that,” he said.

As the fight plays out in Washington, detainees at Guantanamo can enroll in seminars lasting an hour to 90 minutes once or more every day. Class ratios are low, with no more than 20 prisoners allowed in a class.

In horticulture, detainees learn the “principles of horticulture 1& 2, basic landscape plants and landscape pruning practices,” records show.

A “life skills” seminar teaches prisoners, among other things, about computers and typing, including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint at basic, intermediate and advanced levels.

A nutrition class instructs prisoners about the “principles of nutrition and scientific foundations of exercise and fitness,” records show.

Detainees, who also can learn English, appear to get something akin to report cards, too, though it’s unclear whether they see their grades.

The contractor must provide to the government a quarterly student evaluation report for each detainee enrolled in a seminar.

Contract officials also must supply supporting documentation such as tests, special projects and instructor recommendations.

Treatment of the detainees has been a contentious issue since the prison opened in 2001 as the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan. Concerns have included the size of cells, interrogation techniques and the food detainees are served.

American officials say they try to take special needs into account.

“Due to cultural and religious considerations,” seminars must be given by male instructors fluent in English as well as Arabic or Pashtu, records state.

The seminar work had been performed by Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions LLC, according to records, but the government sought proposals and chose a lower bidder for the contract.

Torres filed a protest on the grounds that the request for proposals was defective because it was never clear whether personnel could teach more than one class.

An attorney for the company declined to comment. A lawsuit was filed against the U.S. government through the Army Expeditionary Contracting Command. Officials referred questions to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond.

The Justice Department opposed a motion by Torres in the case, but the filing remains under seal.

Regardless of how the dispute shakes out, more than 200 pages of contract records attached as exhibits to the bid protest shed light on what is perhaps one of the world’s most remarkable librarian jobs.

At the Guantanamo library, staff members are required to examine all returned reading material for any notes or markings.

The contractor “shall monitor and report library usage and communication patterns that may involve the use of library material, as well as report possible requests that may be a security and/or safety risk,” the contract records state.

The contractor also is required to keep a file called the weekly Koran report to “track the number and percentage of detainees in possession of Korans.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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