Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (TFC)— The Department of Defense recently awarded a contract to expand the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. Awarded on April 20th, the contract tasks URS Group Inc, an international construction company, with expanding Guantanamo’s “Expeditionary Legal Complex”.
According to the Department of Defense’s website, the contract intends to provide Guantanamo Bay with additional facilities to support “the Office of Military Commissions. New structures to the notorious detention facility will include a new holding cell, evidence storage, waiting areas, and additional workspaces for personnel.
The contract also notes eight other unnamed project options may be included in the future. At the moment, DoD’s website notes, the contract is worth $14,557,557. If, however, URS Group Inc. chooses to include those eight unnamed options, the value increases to $18,925,055.
The Expeditionary Legal Complex was designed essentially as a temporary courtroom for Guantanamo’s prisoners. It served largely as a darkly ironic P.R. measure due to a lack of access GITMO prisoners have to trial and representation. Like much of Guantanamo, particularly in its early history, the legal complex was largely bare-bones. According to Washington Post, the $12 million complex started out as 100 tents and a courthouse, and five holding cells. Some of the few trials which have occurred were accused of being tampered with, including video feeds cutting out at key moments. This particular portion of Guantanamo has been described as an “impressive feat of information control” by military officials.
URS Group Inc. is a subsidiary of AECOM and has a history of work with DoD, normally through the US Army Corps of Engineers. AECOM’s services not only extends to other US military branches, such as the Navy but also US allies. It’s work-load has included everything from construction, to military logistics support, to helping maintain Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 Fighters.
More recently, AECOM was awarded contracts for aiding USACE risk coastal risk management operations following last year’s volley of massive hurricanes. That particular contract was worth over $30 million and doesn’t expire until 2023. AECOM has also helped develop systems for the United Nations to help local governments mitigate natural disasters due to climate change. URS Group itself handles construction and design projects with customers in several countries. It was acquired by AECOM following a period of financial distress in 2014.
GITMO’s fate has been in the wind ever since President Obama first advocated closing the facility. He called it one of the best recruitment tools for international terror groups due to known mistreatment and torture of detainee’s. As his two terms in office progressed, however, it became clear this too was political lip service.
President Donald Trump, conversely, has taken a more openly aggressive military stance in general. Almost as if to erase his predecessor’s rhetoric, President Trump ordered GITMO stay open in early 2018. Due to controversial bills like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and Trump’s authoritarian vernier, fears bubbled that US citizens could one day end up under military detention.
GITMO, of course, is one of the US government’s most notorious detention facilities. Countless black sites operated by intelligence and military agencies are currently active worldwide. These sites lack all oversight, and often host some of the most colorfully heinous tales of “enhanced interrogation”. Anti-NDAA activists often cite police facilities like Chicago’s Homan Square as examples of GITMO-style detention creeping back home.
President Donald Trump both on the campaign trail and in office has voiced support for what international law regards as torture. Do efforts to expand Guantanamo Bay signal expansions in other black sites? Is this just one noticeable manifestation of a largely shrouded military strategy for the controversial president?