Officials say several al-Qaida prisoners vow to kill an American before they leave Cuba base

Wednesday, January 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) _ Several al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners have vowed to kill an American during their time at this remote U.S. military base, officials said Wednesday.

Fifty detainees are being held at the facility and 30 more were to arrive on a plane from Afghanistan later Wednesday, said Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, commander of U.S. Joint Task Force 160 overseeing the operation in Guantanamo Bay.

``These are not nice people,'' Lehnert told a news conference at an aircraft hangar on the base in eastern Cuba. ``Several have publicly stated here their intent to kill an American before they leave Guantanamo Bay. We will not give them that satisfaction.''

Lehnert said none have been interrogated yet and it was unclear when or if they would be offered legal advice.

``They spend their days praying, meditating, eating,'' he said.

The temporary detention center can hold 100 inmates but will be expanded to hold more than 600 while builders complete a permanent facility that can hold 2,000 detainees.

Lehnert said the prisoners were being treated humanely and a team from the international Red Cross would inspect conditions Thursday. He showed reporters a foam cot the prisoners were given to sleep on and plastic bags of rations that included breakfast bagels, fruit and beef stew.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Wednesday President Bush was satisfied with the prisoners' treatment.

``It is humane; it is respectful,'' he said. ``The president is satisfied that they are being treated as Americans would want people to be treated.''

Doctors on the base performed surgery on a prisoner whom they said had been shot about a month ago in Afghanistan, the military said in a statement earlier Wednesday.

The surgery was performed Sunday on the man's upper right arm. The prisoner was expected to regain motion in his elbow and shoulder but may have limited mobility in his wrist due to nerve damage.

It was unclear whether the man had been shot during the conflict in Afghanistan or in detention before being sent to Cuba.

The United States is holding more than 400 prisoners at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan. Ninety prisoners of Pakistani origin will be transferred to Pakistan, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.

None of the detainees has been identified by U.S. officials. A Saudi Interior Ministry official said Wednesday that some Saudis captured in Afghanistan were among detainees transferred to Guantanamo Bay. British officials have said three Britons are among the prisoners on this remote base, the oldest U.S. overseas outpost.

The prisoners will eventually face intense interrogation, especially concerning the whereabouts of accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Wednesday urged respect for the prisoners' human rights.

``All persons detained ... are entitled to the protection of international human rights law and humanitarian law,'' Robinson told reporters in Geneva. ``I would like to see a strong affirmation that these standards are the fundamental principles of democratic countries and the rule of law, rather than reluctant concessions ...''

Human rights campaigners have criticized detention conditions. The London-based rights group Amnesty International said the plan to house detainees in ``cages'' would ``fall below minimum standards for humane treatment,'' and that the temporary cells _ six feet by eight feet _ are smaller than ``that considered acceptable under U.S. standards for ordinary prisoners.''

U.S. officials insist conditions do not violate human rights. The United States is reserving the right to try al-Qaida and Taliban captives on its own terms and is not calling them ``prisoners of war,'' a designation that would invoke the Geneva Convention.

Robinson said the legal status of the detainees must be determined by ``a competent tribunal, in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention.''