- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba A team from the International Red Cross began meeting with prisoners yesterday to evaluate whether the U.S. military is violating the rights of more than 100 captives taken from Afghanistan to this arid Caribbean outpost.
It is up to the prisoners to decide whether they want to talk to Red Cross staffers, who are expected to remain at the U.S. base for a week and return for subsequent visits, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Darcy Christen said in Geneva.
"It's our first visit, and we plan to repeat it. We will have a series of visits for as long as the prisoners are held at the base," he said.
The Red Cross visit is the first time independent experts have been given a look at Camp X-ray. Human rights advocates say the prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions. The U.S. military maintains that strict security is necessary for the fighters, who it says are ready to kill their captors if given a chance, but it insists that the prisoners' rights are respected.
As the latest batch of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners settled in their hastily built, individual chain-link cells, bringing the total number to 110, four ICRC members met with U.S. officials, then began the first of their interviews with detainees.
The Red Cross team, which included a doctor and linguist, arrived on a small plane from Florida. Urs Boegli, head of the team, said its findings would be shared with U.S. authorities, but that he wasn't sure whether they would be made public.
Prisoners with shaved heads and orange jumpsuits sat in open-air cells Thursday behind three fences and coils of razor wire. Occasionally, guards led them out, hands bound, for walks in the heavily fortified yard, using basic commands in Arabic for some of the prisoners.
"For the most part, they do what they're told," said Sgt. Lisa Juve, an Army guard who spoke to journalists, who were allowed to see the detention camp from about 150 yards away.
Military officials say the camp will soon be able to hold 320 inmates or more, if they are housed two to a cell. Workers also are building a permanent prison to hold up to 2,000.
The United States is holding more than 300 prisoners in Afghanistan, at the Marine base at Kandahar airport, and a few others elsewhere.
Six Algerians detained in Bosnia-Herzegovina and suspected of terrorist links will be taken to Guantanamo within days, a senior U.S. official in Europe told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
When prisoners arrive at the U.S. base, they are given a half sheet of paper to write to relatives or friends.
Five interpreters using Arabic and other languages help the guards communicate with prisoners, officials said. They could not immediately say how many or which languages were being used.
A Marine security guard, Cpl. Joe Lupo, said he was struck by the prisoners' sizes. "They're pretty small guys," he said, describing some of them as appearing to be in their teens.
Military officials say most are in their 20s and 30s, though they are not revealing identities or nationalities.
Britain said yesterday that a small team of its diplomats has arrived at the base to visit three detainees who say they are British.
Amnesty International said housing detainees in "cages" would "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment" and that the temporary cells 8 feet by 8 feet are too small.
Human rights groups also are concerned about the prisoners' status. The United States reserves the right to try them on its own terms and is not calling them prisoners of war, a designation that would invoke the Geneva Conventions.
"All people captured on a battlefield are assumed automatically to be prisoners of war," Mr. Christen of the ICRC said. "They should be considered prisoners of war until a tribunal, defined by the Geneva Conventions, decides otherwise."
Mr. Christen said that the Geneva Conventions don't give immunity from prosecution for crimes, but added that "you cannot punish someone simply for being a combatant."

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