As more detainees arrive, officials at Guantanamo say interrogation will focus on future attacks

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) _ Thirty-four more detainees from Afghanistan arrived at this remote U.S. Navy base Saturday as a speedboat carrying riot troops blared ``We will rock you.''

``I enjoy getting my hands on them. ... It feels good to see them inside their little cages; they're where they belong,'' said Michael Pfadenhauer, a 22-year-old from Baltimore who was among soldiers guarding the perimeter of the airfield on this U.S. Navy base in eastern Cuba.

The fresh arrivals came two days after Washington announced that the Geneva Convention _ a group of treaties dealing with the treatment of war prisoners _ should apply to detainees from the ousted Afghan Taliban regime, but not to detainees of the al-Qaida network.

Regardless of the legal distinction, Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the Marine in charge of the detention mission, said both groups would be treated the same.

The detainees can expect lengthy interrogation, officials said, focused on getting information about any planned future attacks.

``A small group has identified itself as Taliban. A smaller group has been identified (apparently involuntarily) as al-Qaida,'' Lehnert told reporters Saturday.

Of others detained in Guantanamo, he said, ``We don't know. All we know is they are not on our side.''

The arrivals Saturday brought to 220 the number of prisoners being held at what's called Camp X-ray, a temporary prison of open-air cells with walls of chain-link fence.

President Bush's administration refused this week to bow to demands from several countries that the Taliban detainees be given official prisoner-of-war status. However, a U.S. congressman who toured Camp X-ray said the detainees were being treated fairly under the Geneva Conventions.

``They are getting medical screening and medical care. They are getting 2,600 calories a day. Their spiritual needs are being taken care of,'' Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin who is chairman of the U.S. House of Representative's Judicial Committee, said Friday.

Earlier, the lilting cry of a Muslim Navy cleric had risen over the camp, calling the detainees to midday prayers.

The cleric, Bangladesh-born Lt. Abuhena Saiful-Islam, has said that some of the detainees have expressed regrets to him about the Sept. 11 attack.

Several countries have demanded that their citizens be returned home to face interrogation or trial. U.S. officials have said the detainees come from 25 countries. On Thursday, a senior Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity said they included about 50 Saudis, 30 Yemenis, 25 Pakistanis, eight Algerians, three Britons and small numbers from Egypt, Australia, France, Russia, Belgium and Sweden.

Some countries, including Britain, welcomed Washington's announcement about the detainees' status. But the International Committee of the Red Cross said it fell short of the requirements of international law.

``The ICRC stands by its position that people in a situation of international conflict are considered to be prisoners of war unless a competent tribunal decides otherwise,'' spokeswoman Kim Gordon-Bates said.

Such a status would give the detainees greater legal protections, and prevent the United States from trying them in secret military commission empowered to impose the death sentence.

The Geneva Conventions set four conditions for qualification as a POW: to be part of a military hierarchy; to wear uniforms or other distinctive signs; to carry arms openly; and to conduct operations according to the laws and customs of war.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reiterated Friday that the Taliban did not wear uniforms, insignia or symbols and had no identifiable chains of command.

On Saturday, on the speedboat vibrating to the strains of the Queen pop group's ``We will rock you,'' Pfadenhauer said the prisoners have not given him any problems.

``They do not give us a hard time,'' he said. ``A lot of them we bring off (the plane) are actually pretty scared. They should be.''