Judicial Watch • Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay Archives | Judicial Watch

On October 24, 2012, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Defense seeking records related to sanitary conditions at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Specifically, JW’s request asked for the following records:

1)      All communications (including emails, memoranda, or any other form of correspondence) respecting health safety or sanitation at Camp Justice;

2)      All reports, assessments, evaluations, lab results, or any other documentation of health safety or sanitation planning or testing at Camp Justice;

3)      All contracts, invoices, expense vouchers, or any other documentation of financial transactions in relation to or in support of health safety or sanitation at Camp Justice;

4)      All commendations, comments, or complaints – medical or otherwise, from any source – respecting health safety or sanitation at Camp Justice; and,

5)      All Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), policy statements, guidelines, directives, initiatives, or other standards or protocols regarding health safety or sanitation at Camp Justice.

On June 20, 2013, US Southern Command produced 30 pages of documents in response to JW’s request. The 30 pages consist of inspection reports within the given timeframe and the standard operating procedures for inspecting facilities on the camp. Several issues stand out within the inspection reports:

  • During one rodent inspection on September 25, 2012, the inspectors discovered a decaying rat in a trap in the ceiling of one room. The report indicated the rat was “well decayed” and suggests that no one is maintaining the pest control efforts. The report suggests that the pest management contract be “reviewed to ensure it is being enforced.” (This report is attached under the name “Gitmo Rodent Inspection Report”)
  • During three separate inspections in November and December 2012 inspectors reported consistent issues with the sanitary conditions of a walk-in refrigerator. Additionally, the same problem of a missing thermometer was reported each time and not remedied. (These reports are attached under the name “Gitmo Freezer Inspection Reports”)
  • Two inspection reports from May and June 2012 indicate that chlorine levels in the water in the female showers was below the acceptable range. The report states that inspectors will continue to monitor the chlorine levels, but there are no further reports of low chlorine levels (These inspection reports are attached under the name “Gitmo Water Test Report”). These showers—designated for visitors to the camp, including media and NGO members—are housed in an outdoor tent, making sanitary conditions even more critical. (A more detailed description of the visitor tents from the US Navy is attached under the name “Visitor Tent Description”)

Judicial Watch, Inc. has obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) documents revealing that the Obama administration has spent more than a half million dollars in taxpayer funds on car rentals at Guantanamo Bay Naval Air Station since 2009, including seven instances costing Americans more than $5,000 and 11 of more than $4,000.  In releasing the tables summarizing the documents requested pursuant to the Freedom  of Information Act (FOIA), the agency stated that “the data provided may not be a complete or accurate representation of rental car expenses at Guantanamo as it reflects only those purchases made with the [Government Travel Charge Card] and only in those cases where vouchers were filed in [the Defense Travel System] database.”  Additionally, the agency explained that rental car records for members on permanent duty assignment to the base were not available in the one record system to which the agency limited its search.

Judicial Watch launched its investigation into rental car and gasoline expenses at Guantanamo Bay in the course of its observation of the military commissions of individuals accused of terrorism on behalf of al Qaeda, including the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001.  Most of the 45-square mile base is off limits to nonofficial vehicles due to the detention center and other ongoing military operations at the base.  Notwithstanding the limited area of travel, DOD personnel visiting the base rent cars at taxpayer expense, paying a rate of $600 per month or $7,200 per year.

Despite its inability to account for all rental car spending on base, the agency refused Judicial Watch’s request for a fee waiver, provided under FOIA for records obtained in the public interest.  DOD reasoned as follows in affirming its decision not to waive fees associated with this request:

“While the documents provided do concern the operations and activities of the government and they are not being used in a commercial interest, it is not apparent how they contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government.  After carefully reviewing your request and the responsive documents, I am denying your fee waiver request because I do not see how the information will significantly contribute to the public’s understanding of the operations and activities of government.”

DOD charged Judicial Watch $880 for these records at a rate of $44 per hour.  However, DOD further stated that since the agency had failed to alert Judicial Watch of costs exceeding $350 (as requested), it would forego collecting the difference.  Nevertheless, DOD warned Judicial Watch that failure to pay within 30 days would result in unspecified interest charges.

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