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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 12:10 GMT
Harsh detention for Afghan prisoners
Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners flown from Afghanistan to an American naval base in the Caribbean are being held in tough conditions of detention.
A temporary detention centre called Camp X-Ray has been set up at the base in Guantanamo Bay, an isolated US outpost on the edge of Fidel Castro's Cuba.
The prisoners are being housed in cells measuring 1.8 by 2.4 metres (six feet by eight feet) with open, chain-link walls, a concrete floor and wooden roof.
They face intense interrogation by US officials anxious to track down Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington.
The US authorities have not granted the detainees prisoner-of-war status, meaning they are not protected by the Geneva Convention.
Washington wants military tribunals to try the prisoners, and the cases are expected to be heard outside the US.
As the base is located outside sovereign territory, the prisoners have no legal rights under the US constitution, and no right of appeal to federal courts.
'Are they kennels?'
Jeffrey Kofman, an American journalist who has visited the base, said the facility was "very, very minimal".
The cells had concrete floors, wooden roofs and wire mesh walls. Prisoners had a foam mat to sleep on, two towels - one for washing, the other to use as a prayer mat - and some form of chamber pot, he said.
"It was a far more bares bones facility than frankly I expected to see. They say they will be holding the detainees in cells, but really they are cages...
"One person said: 'Are they kennels?', to which one of the military staff in charge said: 'No they're not kennels, they are cells, and they're within the bounds of the Geneva Convention. What we are operating is humane treatment, but we're not offering comfort'."
The human rights group Amnesty International voiced concern about the "cages" used for accommodation, saying they would "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment".
The first group to arrive - 20 prisoners described by US military officials as "the worst elements of al-Qaeda and the Taleban" - wore goggles covered with tape and had their hands tied. Some also wore leg shackles.
They wore surgical masks as some prisoners had tested positive for tuberculosis and at least one prisoner was sedated.
They will spend most of their time separated, although they will be allowed out of their cells in small groups for meals, showers and some recreation.
They will be allowed to pray according to their faith.
The camp gets chilly at night and there are swarms of mosquitoes.
The base - known by US servicemen as "Gitmo"- is surrounded by mangrove swamps, salt marshes and dense bush - and the sea is shark-infested.
The camp perimeters - lit up at night - has watchtowers and two fences topped with razor wire constantly patrolled by heavily armed marines.
At night the camp is lit up with halogen floodlights.
Members of a movement that tried to prevent women working may be disconcerted to find that some of their guards are women.
"We have no intention of making it comfortable," Marine Brigadier-General Michael Lehnert told Reuters news agency. "It will be humane."
Hundreds of marines and military police have been flown to Guantanamo Bay to expand the compound to house up to 2,000 prisoners.
American marines landed in Guantanamo during the Spanish-American war in 1898, and the base was established under a 1903 treaty.
After Fidel Castro led the Communists to power in Cuba in 1959, then US President Dwight Eisenhower refused to relinquish the base despite strong objections from Havana.
Although Washington continues to pay the rent - set 100 years ago at 2,000 gold coins a year, and now worth about $4,000 - Mr Castro refuses to cash the cheques.
Cuban Frontier Battalion troops continue to watch their US counterparts along the 28-kilometre fence, but tension has diminished since the end of the Cold War.
American officials have named al-Qaeda and Taleban leaders killed or captured as frustration grows that some senior Taleban figures are reportedly slipping through the net.
Among those who have not been questioned by the US military are three former Taleban ministers who turned themselves into the new Afghan authorities - only to be allowed to return to their homes.
The most important is former Justice Minister Mullah Nuruddin Turabi - known to be close to Taleban leader Mullah Omar - former Defence Minister Mullah Ubaidullah and former Industry Minister Mullah Saadudin.
US officials are eager to question the three, who they believe may have vital clues about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden.
The hunt continues for Bin Laden himself and Mullah Omar, who is believed to have escaped by motorbike as thousands of Afghan soldiers closed in on his suspected hideout.
Also on the wanted list are many more of Bin Laden's top lieutenants who are believed to have evaded capture. They include Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader who is Bin Laden's close adviser and personal doctor.
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