GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Thirty-four more detainees arrived at this U.S. base from Afghanistan Sunday as new questions arose about their treatment and their legal status.
Armed Marines met the group and led them one-by-one from the Air Force C-141 cargo plane to a waiting school bus. The inmates' ankles were shackled and they wore orange jumpsuits, denim jackets, knit caps, turquoise surgical masks and goggles blacked out for security reasons.
Two of new arrivals were sedated during the flight because "they were yelling and thrashing about," a spokesman, Marine Maj. Stephen Cox, told reporters.
At Guantanamo, Cox said: "I don't think that I would characterize that as torture, I would characterize that as an appropriate security measure."
He said one detainee with an old battle injury to the leg was carried off the airplane. Officials say nearly one third of the detainees, now totaling 144, have sustained battle wounds, mainly gunshots in the arm or leg.
U.S. treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay has posed a serious foreign policy challenge for Prime Minister Tony Blair since he put Britain solidly behind Washington in the war against terrorism.
On Sunday, British media prominently displayed the photographs, released by the U.S. Department of Defense on Friday, with The Mail tabloid running the headline "Tortured" over one photo.
A group of British legislators and human rights groups are pressing for the detainees to be given prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention, which would mean they would be tried under the same procedures as U.S. soldiers — through court-martial or civilian courts, not military tribunals.
Asked about the accusations in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said they came from people who were not knowledgeable about the detention conditions.
A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross and a group of British diplomats are at the camp inspecting conditions and interviewing detainees.
U.S. officials have said stringent security is needed because many of the prisoners are dangerous and some have threatened to kill their U.S. captors. On Wednesday, one inmate bit the forearm of a military police officer who tried to subdue him.
The new arrivals were driven to the camp, where officials said they would be processed and given a basic physical exam. Then they are taken to temporary cells with chain-link fence walls on a concrete slab topped by a corrugated iron roof.
Military officials say the cells soon could hold 320 inmates, or more if they were housed two to a cell. Soldiers are awaiting permission to build a permanent facility that would hold up to 1,000 inmates.
Cox said the new arrivals did not include six Algerians transferred to U.S. military custody in Bosnia. U.S. defense officials in Afghanistan had said the six, suspected of terrorism, had been aboard the plane that left the military base at Kandahar airport for the 8,000-mile flight to Guantanamo Bay.
The men were originally arrested by Bosnian authorities on suspicion of terrorist ties, but have not been linked to Al Qaeda.
There are now 232 detainees at Kandahar, down from a high of about 400.
Rumsfeld said Sunday the detainees likely would be tried by military commissions on Guantanamo. Such a move, on a base that is not on U.S. soil, would deny detainees the right of appeal in a U.S. court.
The U.S. military has not identified the detainees, but they are believed to include nationals of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Britain and Australia.