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Suspects arrived at Guantanamo in good health, commander says

WASHINGTON—The 14 terrorist suspects who were transferred to U.S. military custody after being held in secret CIA prisons appeared healthy when they arrived at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, earlier this week, the Navy commander in charge there said Thursday. They'll be assigned attorneys once they've been charged with crimes, another Pentagon official said.

"They arrived safely, and all appeared to be in good condition," said Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the military unit that operates the prison. "Upon their arrival, I personally verified their identification, and I personally signed for each and every detainee."

Harris, who spoke by teleconference to reporters here, said the 14 men—including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—were processed into the camp like any of the other more than 450 prisoners at the detention camp.

"They've undergone a physical and dental examination and will be issued the normal items provided to all detainees," Harris said. "They are being provided the same dietary and cultural amenities that are afforded to all other detainees here."

In addition to Mohammed, those transferred included Ramzi Binalshibh, another suspected Sept. 11 plotter, and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attack in 2000 on the USS Cole in Yemen. Five of those transferred are believed to have been involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Bush acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the Central Intelligence Agency had secretly held and interrogated the 14 suspects outside of the United States.

Bush said some of the prisoners were questioned using an "alternative set of procedures," which critics charge amounted to torture.

The president said he intends to try the men and other terror suspects for war crimes and urged Congress to pass laws authorizing military commissions for that purpose. In June, the Supreme Court struck down the administration's original system of tribunals as unconstitutional.

Harris didn't say exactly when the terror suspects arrived at Guantanamo or if they were brought in individually or in groups. He referred all questions on their transport to the CIA. Paul Gigimiliano, an agency spokesman, said he couldn't comment on any of the operational aspects of the transfer.

Harris also declined to say whether the 14 men would be held together in isolation or imprisoned with other detainees, citing security reasons. On Wednesday, a Justice Department official said the 14 men had been isolated from other prisoners.

Harris said the men would be registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross like other detainees and would be allowed to meet with Red Cross representatives "at the appropriate time."

Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Washington, said representatives from the organization have asked to visit the 14 and are coordinating details of the visit with the Pentagon.

The visit by the Red Cross would be the first for the 14 detainees since they were apprehended, some of them nearly five years ago. During the visit, the Red Cross will be allowed to talk privately with the men about the conditions of their detention. However, as a matter of policy, the Red Cross will discuss their findings only with the U.S. government.

The detainees also will be allowed for the first time since their captures to send and receive mail, which U.S. officials will monitor.

Harris said the new arrivals will be allowed to worship "and will have access to the Quran in their native language and other prayer accessories."

"Their medical and dental care is comparable to that received by any service member deployed here at Guantanamo," he said. "They will be given access to reading material. They will have the opportunity to exercise. And they get three culturally sensitive meals a day, and, if appropriate, blessed by an imam."

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the men would be allowed access to lawyers once they're charged with crimes.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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