MIAMI - Critics of the Guantanamo Bay detention center reacted with fury Friday to Pentagon plans to build a major compound for war-crimes trials at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba - deriding the project as a "white elephant" and urging its rejection by Congress.
"Once again, the Defense Department seems to be operating in - even constructing - its own universe," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International's U.S. division.
New York civil liberties lawyer Michael Ratner called the proposed compound, which could cost as much as 5 million, "another huge waste of taxpayer money . . . to carry out kangaroo trials that will never pass constitutional muster."
The Miami Herald uncovered a Defense Department notice Thursday to would-be military contractors that sets forth its vision for the legal compound. which is meant to provide housing, meals and working space for up to 1,200 people at the first U.S. war crimes trials since World War II.
It set a July 2007 deadline for the project, although Congress has yet to fund or authorize the project.
The Defense Department must formally present the proposal to Congress. According to the "presolicitation notice," the proposal was posted Nov. 3.
The Bush administration is still rewriting its formula before resuming Military Commissions at the detention center. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier declared as unconstitutional the original commissions. Congress only recently reauthorized a new court, and the Pentagon has yet to make any announcements concerning a new court or to or announce new charges.
"Yet the Pentagon wants to build a permanent homage to its failed experiment in second-class justice," Cox said.
"Rather than wasting tons of money creating edifices that may prove to be a white elephant," he added, "the U.S. government should use the sophisticated and fully adequate facilities already available to it to try terrorism suspects - federal courts."