GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Marines and Army military police drilled on how to transfer suspected terrorist prisoners of the al-Qaida and Taliban movements to this Caribbean outpost Thursday as U.S troops 8,000 miles away moved out the first group of hooded and chained prisoners from Afghanistan.
“Obviously this is a unique situation, a historic situation…obviously, as they get closer it’s getting a little more intense,” reported Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello, chief spokesman for the operations at this base known as “Gitmo.”
As he spoke, military police who had hastily built a prison camp of 100 cage-like cells made of chain-link fences rehearsed “the route of march” to move presumed dangerous prisoners from the airstrip.
The first prisoners are expected as soon as Friday.
“The one thing about security is it is never enough,” the colonel said, still withholding the exact arrival time and number of detainees in the first contingent.
Eventually, the camp could house 2,000. “There’s always something else you can do, another sandbag that can be filled.”
Planners are mindful of the uprisings staged by Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan. In some instances, they managed to seize their captors’ weapons, and in one incident killed a CIA agent, Johnny “Mike” Spann, inside a prison.
So the transfer is expected to be a delicate maneuver.
The prisoners may need to take a ferry that links the single airstrip serving Guantanamo on one side of the base to the cages where they’ll be housed, on the other side. It is the usual route of transportation for anyone arriving at this isolated outpost that is reachable only by U.S. military approved aircraft or sea vessels.
The use of large helicopters is another option.
Even before the arrival, security on the transfer mission was tight. CNN footage from Kandahar, Afghanistan, showed a group of about 20 prisoners shuffling to an airplane in chains with hoods over their heads.
Amnesty International issued a statement criticizing the methods of the transfer. Among other things, the group said, the use of hoods and shackles was
“worrying” because this appeared to violate standards of humane treatment.
The conditions of confinement, including the use of small cages “would also fall below minimum standards for humane treatment,” the organization said.
Reports suggested the detainees, not technically prisoners of war under the rules of the Geneva Convention, would be chained to their seats, perhaps sedated and forced to use portable urinals in order to minimize the opportunity for mid-air violence.
Military escorts also declared a blackout on the details of the transfer, once it is accomplished.