U.S. says prisoners treated humanely

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Four members of the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived Thursday to meet with U.S. officials and interview dozens of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners being held at this remote U.S. military outpost.

The visit was the first by independent experts at Camp X-Ray, which human rights advocates say provides substandard conditions for the prisoners. U.S. officials say the tight security is necessary and that the prisoners' rights are not being violated.

The Red Cross team of four, including a doctor, arrived Thursday on a small plane from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Urs Boegli, head of the team, said findings of the prisoners' conditions would be shared with authorities but said he wasn't sure whether the findings would be made public.

During the day Thursday, guards used basic commands in Arabic for some of the prisoners while a forklift groaned, hoisting materials to expand the temporary detention facility.

Behind three fences and coils of razor wire, prisoners with shaved heads and orange jumpsuits sat in open-air cells of chain-link fence. Occasionally, Army guards led a prisoner out of a cell, taking him for a walk in the heavily fortified yard.

"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, but only from about 150 yards away.

Military officials say the camp will soon be able to hold 320 inmates, or more if they are doubled up 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 at the Marine base at Kandahar airport, in Afghanistan, and a few others elsewhere.

Thirty more prisoners arrived in Guantanamo from Kandahar on Thursday, bringing the inmate population here to 110.

When they arrive, prisoners are given a half sheet of paper to write to family members or friends of their indefinite detention in Cuba.

Five interpreters using Arabic and other languages help the guards communicate with prisoners, officials said. U.S. officials could not immediately say how many languages were being used.

The unarmed guards carry booklets with the pronunciation of some basic terms in Arabic, such as "Walk!", "No!" and "Use the latrine?"

A Marine security guard, Cpl. Joe Lupo, said he was struck by the prisoners' size. "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.

Governments have identified seven of the prisoners as Yemeni and three as British. Saudis also are among the prisoners, Saudi officials said, and Australian officials have identified one prisoner as one of their nationals.

26-year-old David Hicks.

Human rights groups have raised concerns over the tough security imposed on the prisoners -- including small cells open to the elements.

U.S. officials say tight security is needed because some prisoners have threatened to kill Americans and they include some of the most dangerous al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Amnesty International said housing detainees in "cages" would "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment," and that the temporary cells -- 8-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.

Prisoners have not been interrogated, nor have they been allowed lawyers -- and it is unclear when or if they would be allowed legal advice at Camp X-Ray, a name based on the call sign X that dates to the mid-1990s when thousands of Haitians and Cubans were held in the camp.

U.S. troops seized Guantanamo Bay in 1898 and have remained ever since despite opposition from the Cuban government. Officials in Havana, however, have not opposed holding the prisoners on Cuban soil.