WASHINGTON, DC – At a time of record deficits, a new soccer field for detainees at Camp 6 in Guantanamo Bay is just getting the finishing touches — at a cost of $750,000 to taxpayers.
The project was the highlight of a tour Tuesday of the detention camp for reporters at the facility covering the arraignment in a military court of Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident and the the only legal U.S. resident on trial at Guantanamo.
The project began in April 2011 and is due to finish this spring. The detainees will now have three recreation facilities at Camp 6, which is home to “highly compliant” detainees who live in a communal setting.
In addition to an indoor recreation field and the existing outdoor recreation field, the new soccer field — selected because it is such a popular sport with detainees — is half the size of an American football field.
The new field has been specially constructed so that the detainees “have maximum access” — about 20 hours a day. Special passageways allow the detainees to pass into the new recreation yard without being escorted by the military.
On the tour, a military police representative who asked not to be identified by name said allowing high levels of activity outdoors helped reduce behavioral problems at the camps, and it also limited the amount of interaction between detainees and the guards.
Since the detention camps opened in 2002, some half dozen cases have been prosecuted — four ended in plea agreements with minimal jail time.
Khan, accused of being hand-selected by Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a second wave of attacks inside the U.S., including a plot to blow up gas stations, is expected to cut a deal. He is also implicated in an assassination plot against former Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff and a car bombing at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2003.
His appearance will be the first time anyone outside the U.S. military or intelligence community has seen him since his capture after Sept. 11 and transfer to secret prisons formerly maintained by the CIA.
Even some of President Obama’s most ardent supporters suggest the administration seems eager to close the camps and reduce the detainee population, and plea agreements with minimal jail time are a sweetheart deal for all involved.
Detainees like Usama bin Laden’s personal cook and his driver are spending less time in prison than American citizens prosecuted in federal courts on lesser charges.
By example, Zachary Chesser of Charlottesville, Va., who was convicted for making threats against the creators of “South Park” and for supporting a Somali terror group, but who never fired a shot on the battlefield, is now serving a 25-year sentence.
By contrast, Omar Khadr, who killed an American soldier on the battlefield in Afghanistan is nearly half way through his eight-year sentence at Guantanamo, and may finish out his term in Canada.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying about the Justice Department budget on Capitol Hill, said the recidivism rate for Guantanamo detainees overall is in the mid-20s. But the recidivism rate for those transferred during the Obama administration is 7 percent. Holder acknowledged that part of that comparison may be because the former detainees have been out for a shorter period of time, but also because the determinations about each of their release had to be unanimously approved by a task force.