GOP lawmakers criticize $750,000 Gitmo soccer field
By Catherine Herridge Published March 03, 2012 | FoxNews.com
At least four House members and one staffer from the Senate appropriations committee have pushed the Department of Defense for answers on the new soccer field for detainees at Camp 6 in Guantanamo Bay.
Fox News first reported on the $750,000 controversial project Tuesday.
Congressman Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., is introducing the "NO FIELD ACT" that would penalize the Department of Defense and cut the 2013 budget by $744,000 -- the price tag for the Camp 6 soccer field.
"This may be the poster child for this election as to what's wrong with this country," Ross told Fox News in an interview from Tampa.
"We're talking about a significant amount of money spent for terrorist detainees at a camp that we are told is supposed to be closed," he said.
And Ross said the message from voters was clear. "I have heard from my constituents, 'please tell us this is not true,' you're asking us to contribute and is this the fair share the president is talking about?"
On the House floor this week, Congressman Ted Poe, R-Tx., underscored, what he portrayed, as the lunacy of the project.
While American soldiers are killed in Afghanistan, Poe said the U.S. government is getting ready for its grand opening of the soccer field.
"A swanky high-dollar soccer field for criminal terrorist detainees at Gitmo. And of course, Americans are picking up the $750,000 tab for the recreation facilities for these criminals," he said. "These radicals should be doing hard time, not soccer time. Our government has no business building this tropical Caribbean recreation facility for terrorists. It is disrespectful and insulting to all who are victims of these killers. What's next at this terrorist playground? A tiki hut and bar on the beach?" Poe said.
The Guantanamo soccer field, half the size of an American football field, has special passages that allow detainees to go from the detention center to the outdoors -- without a military escort. The 28,000-square-foot field includes a soft walking track, security cameras and a razor wire fence. By spring, it should be open for detainees to use up to 20 hours a day after bathrooms and goal posts are added.
Defense Secretary Panetta was asked about the project at this week's House budget hearing where he defended the plan to increase health care fees for the military.
"I had a constituent that contacted me today about a news item. Did you know that apparently our federal taxpayers are paying for a $750,000 soccer field at Gitmo? Is that something that Department of Defense knew about?" Congressman Huelskamp, R-Kan., asked.
Panetta, having heard the question twice, said he was not familiar with the project.
The Guantanamo commander who oversees the camps, Rear Admiral David Woods, blames the high cost on the need to ship equipment and materials to the remote Navy base, adding that their mission is to keep the detainees under safe conditions that provide socialization. Outdoor recreation has encouraged good behavior from detainees which improves the working conditions for the guards.
On a tour of the camps, Navy Commander Tamsen Reese said most of the detainees were now housed in Camp 6 and they were used to communal living in an open air camp because they followed the rules.
"What the commander here is trying to do is make sure that we continue to maintain the same standard that we've had here and recognizing again that when the detainees moved from 4 to 6 this was one of, and again this was the first communal camp, this was one of the things the detainees enjoyed the most was the large recreation area," Reese told reporters.
The price tag of $744,000 is significant. A Pentagon spokesman said anything over $749,000 needs congressional approval. So far Democrats have been silent on the issue. The ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who advocate for detainee rights, had no comment.
Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge's bestselling book "The Next Wave: On the Hunt for Al Qaeda's American Recruits," published by Crown, draws on her reporting for Fox News into Al Qaeda 2.0 and it investigates the Obama administration’s controversial handing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camps and the stalled prosecution of the 9/11 case.