- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Trump administration may have sent a subtle clue about its plans for the terrorist detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay by awarding a maintenance contract for work at the site that extends until 2043.

The Defense Department last week announced that Siemens Government Technologies had been granted a contract worth more than $800 million to perform maintenance and energy conservation projects at the large naval station, which houses several dozen military and personnel structures, as well as the prison on the southern tip of Cuba.

A Navy public affairs officer confirmed to The Washington Times that the terrorist prison camp will receive some of the funds from the contract for various maintenance projects.

“The Detention Center is part of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, a tenant on the base; therefore, they will receive benefits from the upgrades to the base utility systems and other energy improvements,” the officer said in an email.

The department did not specify what percent of the contracted funds will be devoted to the prison.

Despite a push from House Democrats to begin transferring detainees and ultimately closing the prison, the contract hinges on the site to remain open for the foreseeable future and has gone largely unnoticed by lawmakers.

Projects for the company include heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades, lighting upgrades, and commercial refrigeration upgrades, the Defense Department said.

The department announced that eight proposals were submitted for the contract, which is set to end in April 2043. That signals the government plans to invest in the prison for the next 24 years.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have resisted President Trump’s request for $88 million to build a new detainee complex at Guantanamo.

The complex has been controversial almost from the day the George W. Bush administration set it up to house the onslaught of al Qaeda and other terrorist group members swept up in the months after the 9/11 attacks. Critics said the facility, technically located outside the United States, included harsh detention practices tantamount to torture and created a legal quagmire that made it difficult to prosecute leading figures involved in the 9/11 plot.

Guantanamo supporters have argued that the facility represents a way to prevent foreign terrorist suspects detained overseas from gaining full rights as people on U.S. soil and that the nation would be protected in the event that Guantanamo itself ever becomes a terrorist target.

In the face of bipartisan opposition from Congress, President Barack Obama failed to deliver on a promise to shut down the facility. President Trump has yet to meet his campaign pledge to fill Guantanamo with hundreds of “bad dudes,” despite the high number of captives from the war on the Islamic State being held in temporary camps in the Middle East.

“Continuing to detain individuals at Guantanamo Bay not only harms the moral standing of the United States but its national security and bottom line as well,” Rita Siemion, director of national security advocacy at Human Rights First, told The Times.

The U.S. naval base now holds just 40 detainees, compared with some 680 in the first years of the global war on terror after 2001. The last known detainee sent to Guantanamo arrived in 2008, according to data from Human Rights First.

The population shrank dramatically under Mr. Obama to 41 inmates. His administration facilitated transfers to U.S.-aligned nations that were willing to house the prisoners.

The sudden ouster in April of the Navy admiral commanding the prison has added to political friction over the facility’s future, as have comments by 9/11-era officials who have argued that keeping the prison open is a costly error.

Mr. Trump announced an executive order during his first State of the Union address to keep the prison open, but it is not clear for how long.

House Democrats, now in the majority, have renewed a push to close Guantanamo. They have included a provision in their version of the pending defense authorization bill easing the process for transferring inmates to other facilities. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, “has made a major effort” to shutter Guantanamo, a committee staffer told The Times.

The Republican-backed Senate version of the bill would permit transfers for medical reasons only and would ban funding to close the prison.

The medical transfer issue is seen as increasingly key to the debate. The aging of the detainee population — the oldest inmate is now 71 — is adding to the cost of maintaining the site.

Ms. Siemion said that “rather than perpetuating this stain on the nation’s history at a high cost to taxpayers, the focus should be on proven, effective and far less costly approaches to counterterrorism.”

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