The U.S. Defense Department is looking for contractors to build a new facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it can hold large-scale military trials for terrorism suspects held there.
The U.S. Navy has issued the call for bids on a contract for work estimated to cost between $75-$125 million. The new courtrooms could host dozens of trials, and Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the existing facilities cannot handle them.
"The single courtroom that is down there is basically designed for handling a single-defendant trial," he said. "What we're looking at is some additional courtrooms, as well as the security infrastructure that's necessary to allow for more trials and multiple-defendant trials to be taking place at the same time."
Whitman says the new facility will include rooms for storing, viewing and discussing classified evidence against the detainees, as well as living and dining facilities for lawyers and the media.
The Navy wants bids submitted by early January, but Whitman says construction will depend on approval of the funding by the Congress.
The Pentagon has said it wants to start holding what it calls the "military commissions" early next year. That could happen even before the new facility is finished.
These commissions would be held under a law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush earlier this year. The law creates a new procedure for trying the detainees, replacing previous plans that the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in June.
The new procedures are themselves the subject of a legal challenge. But Bryan Whitman says the Defense Department is preparing to proceed anyway.
"There will always be legal challenges to everything that the department does," he said. "It's the nature of the legal system and the nature of advocacy. But the American people expect and desire this country to move forward with commissions to try those unlawful combatants for Law of Land Warfare violations. And that's what this department is proceeding to do."
The Pentagon says there are about 435 detainees held at , but 110 of them have been approved for release or transfer to their home countries. Small groups of detainees are released or transferred from time to time, as U.S. officials complete negotiations with countries that agree to accept them.
But 14 new detainees arrived at the facility in September from secret CIA prisons around the world. They are among the most notorious of the detainees and are expected to be among those tried under the new procedures, and perhaps at the new facility.