474th Celebrates Six Months of Hard Work
474th Celebrates Six Months of Hard Work
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Feb. 2, 2008 – The 474th Civil Engineering Squadron celebrated their contribution to a $12 million state-of-the-art Expeditionary Legal Complex to Joint Task Force Guantanamo during a ceremony Feb. 2. The ELC will augment the military commission process by providing a second courtroom that will have the technology and security measures required to adequately facilitate military commissions involving high value detainees.
During the ceremony, Air Force Lt. Col. James Starnes, commander of the 474th, thanked his Airmen who worked tirelessly over the past six months to complete construction of the facility.
“This has been a once in a lifetime historical event for these Air Guard engineers to construct such a facility,” said Starnes, who mentioned this court is the first military tribunal constructed since World War II. “This mission has great magnitude in what we are doing to aid the Global War on Terror.”
The ELC, which is designed to facilitate military commissions where multiple defendants are tried together, is scheduled to be ready for use by early March. Army Col. Wendy Kelly, director of operations for the Office of Military Commissions, mentioned that the complex will include one of the first military courtrooms designed to protect highly-classified information and provide the state of the art technology usually found in federal courts.
“There are Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities that allow the prosecution, defense, judge and clerk of court to read classified evidence,” said Kelly. “The complex also includes holding cells intended for detainees, along with witness waiting areas and separate rooms where jury panels can deliberate.”
The new legal complex became a necessity, said Kelly, once the OMC decided it was “judicially economical” to have joint trials in cases for detainees who are believed to be involved in the same conspiracy. Plans to construct a new courtroom to hold military war crimes were first initiated in late 2006 soon after Congress promulgated the Military Commissions Act. With a operational date set by the Pentagon, Kelly mentioned that the Red Horse civil engineering unit located in Florida was tasked to design the complex based on requirements set by the OMC. Soon after the architectural plans were drawn up in May 2007, the 474th was mobilized and arrived in Guantanamo Bay in July 2007 to construct the ELC. The 474th was also tasked to set up a “tent city” that the unit later named “Camp Justice."
“The building was transported in pieces and was unloaded from the barge during the end of September,” said Kelly. “It took all the services and the dedication of the 474th to successfully convert this warehouse into a state of the art facility capable of sustaining major criminal trials.”
Starnes, whose squadron consists of Air Guard units from six different states, mentioned that Air Guardsmen with various skills and talents worked vigorously to the facility meet standards set by the Department of Defense.
“Approximately 120 civil engineers where on ground to conduct various tasks from putting together raw materials to laying carpet and painting walls,” said Starnes, whose Airmen also assisting with construction projects on the naval station here. “This was an inexpensive way to give the judge and attorneys the facilities they needed to perform their job during the proceedings.”
There are many design features within the facility that set it a part from other military courtrooms. Unlike a traditional court that usually seats 12 jurors; the ELC courtroom will include seating to sustain 20 jury panel members. With three tables set up for prosecutors and seven tables available to seat multiple defendants who are tried during the same proceeding, Kelly added that the courtroom is unique compared to those usually found on military facilities. As a precautionary measure, a glassed in spectator box is also included to prevent those attending the proceeding from coming into direct contact with a detainee. The grounds of the ELC will also include five holding cells where detainees can be held during their trials. Kelly mentioned that the holding cells are located in a gated area providing a walkway that leads directly into the courtroom, which helps minimize detainee movement during a proceeding. The cells, which include a bed, toilet and sink, also have a sitting area where counsel can privately meet with detainees. “
An attorney can bring a folding chair into the sitting area, where they have the option of meeting with a detainee while they are in their cell or the detainee can sit unrestrained in the sitting area with their counsel,” said Kelly. “These holding cells help facilitate a joint trial since detainees can be easily transported to and from the courtroom.”
In addition to detainee holding cells, the complex includes a variety of buildings that could be used are witness waiting areas and deliberation rooms. To ensure that the military commissions courtroom as comparable to those in federal courts, the state of the art “Courtroom 21” system will be available for attorneys to upload documents, photographs and graphics to a laptop computer and electronically submit them during a proceeding.
This paperless evidence presentation system gives witnesses access to a monitor where they can make markings on evidence using a specially-designed laser pen. These markings can be captured by the court reporter and then submitted in the court’s record. Attorneys will also have the option of submitting evidence exclusively to the judge or they can display it on monitors located in the courtroom for spectators to view.
During the proceedings, interpreters will be housed in a separate facility where they would be able to translate for defendants who speak multiple languages during a joint trial. Kelly added the interpreters will be able to see the detainees on monitors as they listen to the audio feed so they can watch their body movements while they interpret their language.
In addition to the courtroom facilities, a media center will be located within the complex to provide visiting journalists with internet hook ups and close circuit television of the hearings. Modular barracks will be on-site to house counsel actively participating in a proceeding to help protect their privacy.
Kelly mentioned that providing on site living and working facilities will help alleviate the strain on the naval station and improve the overall trial process.
“Everybody involved in the process of creating the ELC should be proud of this world-class facility,” said Kelly. “It would not have come in on time or on budget if it was not for all the services playing a part in constructing this complex.”