At the U.S. naval station here, a handsome electronic sign hangs between two concrete pillars. In yellow enamel against a blue metal backdrop is a map of Cuba, the "Pearl of the Antilles," above flashing time and temperature readings.
"Welcome Aboard," the sign says.
The cost of the marquee, along with a smaller sign positioned near the airfield: $188,000. Among other odd legacies from war-on-terror spending since 2001 for the troops at Guantanamo Bay: an abandoned volleyball court for $249,000, an unused go-kart track for $296,000 and $3.5 million for 27 playgrounds that are often vacant.
The Pentagon also spent $683,000 to renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee, and $773,000 to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant.
The spending is part of at least $500 million that has transformed what was once a sun-beaten and forgotten Caribbean base into one of the most secure military and prison installations in the world. That does not included construction bonuses, which typically run into the millions.
Also not included are annual operating costs of $150 million — double the amount for a comparable U.S. prison, according to the White House. Add in clandestine black-budget items, such as the top-secret Camp 7 prison for high-value detainees, aptly nicknamed Camp Platinum, and the post-Sept. 11, 2001, bill for the 45-square-mile base easily soars toward $2 billion.
The Obama administration wants to close the detention operation and relocate it to a prison in Illinois, but the prospect of seeing the final detainees depart seems increasingly like a long-term project. If the president does succeed, the Pentagon will leave behind a newly remodeled military encampment, along with numerous questions about whether the cost of creating what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once called the "least worst place" for suspected terrorists was worth the price.
In the first public accounting of how much has been spent on the base since the first detainees arrived in January 2002, The Washington Post obtained from the military a line-by-line breakdown of capital expenditures, ranging from the mundane to the exotic.
Overall, the prison camp operation that hugs the Caribbean coastline cost about $220 million to build over several years, a price that does not include Camp 7, which holds 16 of the most notorious detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. And $13 million was spent to construct a courthouse complex that appears custom-designed for Mohammed and his four co-defendants.
But as spending accelerated over the years, and more and more construction and renovation contracts were awarded, the number of detainees steadily declined, from a peak of 680 in May 2003 to 181 now.
Many of the projects itemized in the breakdown are reminders of suburban America — familiar settings re-created in a Caribbean hothouse to comfort the military personnel and contractors who run detainee operations.
Millions went to build artificial-turf football and baseball fields that professional players would envy, surrounded by a cluster of facilities, including a running track, a skate park, an outdoor roller hockey rink and batting cages.