GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL STATION, Cuba – An Air Force cargo plane carrying 20 Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners arrived early Friday afternoon at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba.
In chains and blindfolded, the prisoners had been flown halfway around the world from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to a tropical Caribbean island that will be a far cry from paradise.
"These represent the worst elements of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban," said Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, commander of Joint Task Force 160, which is overseeing the operation. "We asked for the bad guys first."
The prisoners were taken off the Air Force C-141 cargo plane about an hour after it touched down at 1:55 p.m. EST after the 8,000-mile journey.
Several of the detainees appeared to resist the 50-plus Marines who led them to the buses. At least one prisoner was sedated on the trip to the base and two were forced to their knees on the tarmac before being allowed to stand again and walk to the buses.
Some of the detaines continued to struggle with the troops – armed with machine guns and automatic assault rifles – as they were put on the buses.
"These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon press conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Navy spokesman Lt. Bill Salvin said the prisoners will be isolated in temporary, individual cells with walls of chain-link fence and metal roofs. They will sleep on mats under halogen floodlights. The camp is surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers.
"We're going to get them to X-Ray as quickly as possible," Salvin said.
In light of bloody uprisings staged by other captives in Afghanistan, the detainees are being held under extraordinary security. Authorities declined to discuss details of the measures they are taking to avoid violence.
Lehnert said the prisoners' treatment would be "humane but not comfortable."
On Thursday, U.S. troops rehearsed for the arrival of the prisoners, going through drills in which handcuffed servicemen struggled mightily as others marched them to their cells.
The 20 prisoners wore hoods to block their vision on Thursday as they boarded an Air Force C-17 at Kandahar International Airport. According to reports, they were to be chained to their seats in the plane and fed by their guards during the long trip to Guantanamo.
"There are among these prisoners people who are perfectly willing to kill themselves and kill other people," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. He said those overseeing the transfer had been told to use "appropriate restraint."
The 20 prisoners are just the first of a large number who will be heading to Guantanamo. There are 361 prisoners remaining in Kandahar — 30 more were brought there Thursday — and there are 19 at the air base in Bagram, north of Kabul.
There is one other prisoner in American hands — American Taliban John Walker, who remains on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.
Officials say Camp X-Ray has room for 100 prisoners now and soon could house 220. A more permanent site under construction at Guantanamo is expected to house up to 2,000.
The Pentagon barred news organizations from transmitting pictures taken as the Taliban and Al Qaeda members boarded the plane. When the prisoners arrive in Cuba, there also will be no photographs or video allowed. Authorities at the base gave no reason, but the Geneva Convention says prisoners of war must be protected "against insults and public curiosity."
Military officials told reporters they wouldn't even be allowed to bring tape recorders to record the sound of the plane landing.
U.S. officials said the prisoners are being treated humanely, and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said their living conditions will be better than they were in Afghanistan, where many were hiding in caves. The Red Cross and other groups will monitor conditions.
Amnesty International expressed concern about the detention and transport methods, saying the size of the prisoners' temporary cells — about 6 feet by 8 feet — is smaller than "that considered acceptable under U.S. standards for ordinary prisoners."
On Friday, Rumsfeld dismissed the complaints.
"It simply isn't" a violation, the defense secretary said. "When prisoners are being moved between locations they're frequently restrained in some way, with handcuffs or some sort of restraints. That is not new; it is not in any way inappropriate."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.