Maybe a lifetime in the news business makes one paranoid. Or maybe it was just a matter of timing.

The story showed up in Tuesday's Press-Telegram, as I was reading "Night," Elie Wiesel's horrifying autobiography of a teenager in Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

Appearing on page A5, the story said the federal government had awarded a $385 million contract for the construction of "temporary detention facilities." These would be used, the story said, in the event of an "immigration emergency."

Jamie Zuieback, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), explained such an emergency like this: "If, for example, there were some sort of upheaval in another country that would cause mass migration, that's the type of situation that the contract would address."

That sounds a tad fuzzy, but let's concede that the camps do have something to do with immigration, illegal or not. In fact, there already are thousands of beds in place at various U.S. locations for the purpose of housing illegal immigrants.

But for anyone familiar with history U.S. or European the construction of detention camps for whatever purpose should prompt a chilling scenario.

Same folks

The new detention camps will be built by Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton. The latter, as you likely know, is the defense-related corporate giant with fists full of contracts involving the war in Iraq.

Halliburton was led by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000. Democrats in Congress have accused the administration of favoring the company via no-bid contracts. But KBR says the detention contract was competitive.

Tuesday's story also said the contract was awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers. However, Halliburton says it was awarded by the Department of Homeland Security in support of ICE.

The contract is for a year, but includes four one-year options. It is a renewal of an existing ICE contract, notes Halliburton.

KBR, in fact, had the $9.7 million contract to build the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. This facility, popularly dubbed "Gitmo," holds 660 prisoners classified by the government as "enemy combatants."

Anyone care?

This column is written with the distinct feeling that not many people will give a hoot about any or all of this. But as already noted, a news story about construction of government detention centers should give us all pause.

Considering what took place in Nazi Germany, as well as the shameful incarceration of Japanese-Americans in 1942, no detention camp should be built without the widest possible public scrutiny.

Bottom line: The contract cries out for greater attention. So far, the government's expressed reason for building them is insufficient and ill-defined. And even if the camps do relate to illegal immigration, their purpose could be changed overnight.

This is an instance in which we could be well served by our representatives in Congress. They need to look at this and give constituents a better picture of what is going on.

Let's not have it said, years from now, that no one ever questioned this.