$744,000 buys cooperative Guantánamo captives a new soccer field

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The military unveiled a new $744,000 soccer field on Tuesday, a dusty enclosure with two-toned gravel and fences topped by barbed wire — all designed as a quality of life improvement for cooperative captives.

The goals were missing but the military had erected two guard towers, lights and surveillance cameras at the site outside a penitentiary-style building called Camp 6 where the Pentagon imprisons about 120 of the 171 captives here.

News photography was forbidden for security reasons, said Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, prison camps spokeswoman, whose public relations team released Pentagon-approved photos of the 28,000-square-foot field later in the day.

Prison camp officers brought about a dozen visiting journalists to the project on Tuesday, a day ahead of the arraignment of Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident who has agreed to plead guilty to war crimes and testify against other captives in future military commissions.

While the tour was underway, the Pentagon unsealed a portion of a secret deal with Khan that postpones his sentencing hearing until 2016.

Khan, who turned 32 Tuesday, allegedly acted as a courier for $50,000 between Pakistan and Thailand that was used in the 2003 suicide bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Eleven people were killed and dozens more were wounded. He also allegedly researched U.S. gas stations as terror targets for a senior al Qaida leader and at one point donned a bogus bomb vest in a test of his willingness to blow himself up and kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Khan will enter his plea Wednesday in a public hearing with a built-in 40-second delay that allows an intelligence censor to hit a white-noise button in case anyone in court divulges classified information.

In the public portion of the deal, the case prosecutor, Courtney Sullivan of the Department of Justice, agreed to propose a 25- to 40-year prison sentence. Still under seal was a secret agreement on how many years of Khan’s sentence a senior Pentagon official has agreed to suspend in exchange for his cooperation at future trials in the next four years.

In the case of Omar Khadr, the prosecutor proposed 25 years, the jury returned 40 and the senior official said Khadr would only serve eight, most of it in Canada.

Khadr is now serving his sentence at Guantánamo with three other war crimes convicts in a maximum-security lock-up that has no access to the new soccer field at Camp 6. There was no indication that Khan would be joining the other captives. He has been held in a secret prison camp with other captives who, like him, were held for years by the CIA. For his safety, he was moved away from the other so-called high-value detainees but not into the company of other captives.

Guantánamo officials have developed a “Socialization Program” to ensure Khan is not entirely isolated from human contact. Since arriving at Guantánamo in 2006, he has only had contact with prison camp staff who hold top-secret clearance. It is not known whether family members from Baltimore will be allowed to speak with him.

Khan’s parents did not come to Guantánamo for this week’s hearing. Instead, a military official said, they would be watching the proceedings from a closed-circuit feed at Fort Meade, Md., outside Washington, D.C.

The showcase soccer field — half the size of an American football field — is being built by Burns and Roe Services Corp., said a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale. It should open in April, as the third recreation yard at Guantánamo’s main prison camp complex, a year after construction began on what is currently the largest expansion under way at the decade-old detention center.

The Obama administration estimates that it spends $800,000 a year per captive on basic operating costs for the detention center, whose staff numbers 1,850 government employees from contractors to guards.

When it was suggested that the price tag was excessive, Reese replied that this base’s remote location at times doubles construction costs.