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Readying For Prisoners In Cuba

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globe Master is unloaded at sunset as troops prepare to rehearse the arrival of Taliban and Al-Qaeda detainees from Afghanistan at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba January 10, 2002. Activity at the base has increased as the military prepares for the detainees.
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Handcuffed U.S. troops struggled mightily as fellow soldiers marched them to waiting cells, rehearsing for the arrival of 20 real prisoners — al-Qaida and Taliban fighters being flown in from Afghanistan.

The incoming prisoners have been called suicidally dangerous and their military jailers — who practiced prison techniques Thursday — are taking no chances.

"These people vowed to win their way into paradise by murdering anybody in American uniform, or for that matter, any civilians," said spokesman Steve Lucas at the U.S. Southern Command, the Miami-based command helping to coordinate the move. "The level of threat is probably unique."

The 20 prisoners left the U.S. Marine base at Kandahar International Airport in southern Afghanistan earlier Thursday wearing hoods. They were to have been chained to their seats in the Air Force C-17 and possibly sedated, forced to use portable urinals and be fed by their guards, according to reports.

"These are dangerous individuals," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington. "There are among these prisoners people who are perfectly willing to kill themselves and kill other people." He said those overseeing the transfer have been told to use "appropriate restraint."

His words were not lost on those who will guard them in the Caribbean.

"You're never safe enough. There's always something that you can do, another sandbag that can be filled, another piece of force protection that you can put in place," said Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello, spokesman for a joint task force overseeing the detention operation.

In Afghanistan, the Marine base came under small arms fire shortly after the plane left the runway at Kandahar, and Marines fired back with a heavy barrage. There were no known U.S. casualties in the approximately 30-minute exchange.

The departure of the 20 leaves 361 prisoners at the base in Kandahar — 30 more were brought there after Thursday's flight — and 19 at the air base in Bagram, north of Kabul. One prisoner — American Taliban John Walker Lindh — remained on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.

The detainees are being held under extraordinary security since other captives, from the al-Qaida terrorist network and fighters of the ousted Taliban government that harbored them, have staged bloody uprisings.

The Pentagon barred news organizations from transmitting pictures taken as the prisoners boarded the plane, citing Red Cross objections. The Red Cross denied it had raised the issue with the U.S. military.

When the prisoners arrive in Cuba, journalists were told, there also will be no still or moving pictures allowed. Authorities at the base gave no reason, but the Geneva Convention says prisoners of war must be protected "against insults and public curiosity."

Between 250 and 300 guards were on hand for the prisoners, said Col. Terry Carrico, head of security at the camp surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers.

Prisoner at so-called Camp X-ray will be isolated in temporary, individual cells with walls of chain-link fence and metal roofs, where they will sleep on mats under halogen floodlights.

The international human rights group Amnesty International expressed concern, saying the plan to house detainees in "cages" would "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment."

The size of the temporary cells — about 6 feet by 8 feet — also is smaller than "that considered acceptable under U.S. standards for ordinary prisoners," the London-based group said Thursday.

Amnesty also said reports that detainees were being "drugged, hooded and shackled" during the flight were "worrying."

U.S. officials insist the prisoners will be treated humanely, and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday their living conditions would be better than in Afghanistan where many were hiding in caves. The Red Cross and other organizations will monitor conditions.

U.S. officials have not said how many prisoners ultimately will be taken to Guantanamo, which held tens of thousands of Haitian and Cuban refugees in the 1990s.

Officials say the camp has room for 100 prisoners now and soon could house 220. A more permanent site under construction is expected to house up to 2,000.

The Guantanamo base is one of America's oldest overseas outposts. The U.S. military first seized Guantanamo Bay in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.

By TONY WINTON
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