Congressmen tour Guantanamo camp
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) -- House members Friday toured the Guantanamo Bay naval base, where the U.S. military is interrogating 300 suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members captured in the war in Afghanistan.
Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, led a team of 10 representatives from a United States government plane that arrived on the island base Friday morning. Hobson is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on military construction.
The House members were met by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, the commander of the detention facility set up at Guantanamo Bay, and were quickly ushered from the naval base airport to a waiting ferry.
The delegation was to take a look at the current facilities where the detainees are held, dubbed Camp X-Ray; the nearby area where the Marines and Army security personnel guarding them are based, named Freedom Heights; and the "more permanent" facilities U.S. forces are building for both the detainees and the security force in the naval base's Radio Range area. Radio Range is southwest of Camp X-Ray and Freedom Heights.
Lehnert said construction of the 408 new detainee modular units at Radio Range is on schedule.
"Construction of the security force camp at Radio Range is ahead of schedule," Lehnert said. "All buildings are framed, and 70 of the 75 needed are nearly finished. The progress has been simply phenomenal."
A Guantanamo Bay spokesman said the modular units will be walled, with screened windows, and the 300 detainees at Camp X-Ray will be moved to the new camp soon. U.S. military officials are quick to point out that the current security force quarters are not much different from those of the detainees.
On a visit to Freedom Heights, located on a plateau overlooking Camp X-Ray, journalists saw troops living in large tents. Detainees live in open-air, chain-link cells called "modular units." Neither location has air conditioning; temperatures at Guantanamo Bay average a breezy 80 degrees (26 degrees Celsius) with 67 percent humidity.
Lehnert spoke to the detainees Friday morning about their coming switch to the new quarters.
"It does not mean you will stay here forever if you haven't done anything wrong," Lehnert told them. The general has been addressing detainees each Friday morning for the past three weeks.
He said construction of a second set of 408 detainee cells is planned for March 23. The military says it wants to build 2,040 new modular units in all, but the plans must be approved by Congress.
A Guantanamo Bay spokesman said the units will accommodate more detainees coming from Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan and future military operations.
Military officials said the delegation included Hobson; Joe Skeen, R-New Mexico; Dan Miller, R-Florida; Todd Tiahrt, R-Kansas; Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; Thomas Allen, D-Maine; David Vitter, R-Louisiana; Todd Platts, R-Pennsylvania, and Robert Underwood, D-Guam.
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