GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – The treatment of detained terrorist suspects from the Afghanistan war is getting more scrutiny from the international community and a federal judge in Los Angeles.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz set a Tuesday hearing for a petition filed by a coalition of Los Angeles clergy, journalism professors and civil rights attorneys, including former Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
The first court challenge of the detention of Al Qaeda suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base demands that the U.S. government bring the suspects before a court and define the charges against them.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross demanded the detainees be given prisoner-of-war status subject to the Geneva Conventions, and Sweden called for fair treatment for a Swedish captive.
``In the fight (against terrorism) we need to uphold our norms and values,'' said Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Jozias van Aartsen. ``That applies to prisoners, too.''
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to defuse London press accusations of torture at the base, saying through a spokesman Monday that three Britons among the detainees say they have no complaints about their treatment.
The number of detainees at the Camp X-Ray base in remote Cuba rose to 158 with Monday's arrival of 14 battle-scarred fighters on stretchers, including two amputees and three with infections requiring surgery.
The military C-141 cargo plane bringing them here was the sixth flight bringing detainees from the U.S. base at Kandahar in Afghanistan, where 218 detainees remain. The 14 prisoners were carried from the aircraft on stretchers by Marines in yellow rubber gloves and turquoise surgical masks.
The Marines seemed to frisk the captives before carrying them to a bus. The detainees wore blacked-out goggles and orange jumpsuits, and appeared to have their arms strapped to their bodies.
``They were restrained in a manner appropriate, in a way that would not aggravate their medical conditions,'' Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Brendan McPherson said.
U.S. officials say stringent security is needed because some captives have threatened to kill their American guards.
Similar photographs of detainees kneeling on rocky earth, published by the U.S. Department of Defense on Friday, have provoked protests in Britain.
But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he has ``no doubt'' the detainees were being treated humanely.
U.S. military officials say the precautions are taken during the flight for security reasons and are removed once prisoners are processed and led to a cell.
They refused to say Monday whether they have begun interrogating detainees, who have not been allowed lawyers.
The Red Cross, which has a team at Guantanamo, said Monday it considers the detainees prisoners of war, and the photographs violate a Geneva Convention protecting them from ``public curiosity.''
``Such pictures should not be disseminated. They could have a strong impact on the family and the Muslim community worldwide,'' spokesman Darcy Christen said in Geneva.
Recognizing the detainees as prisoners of war would mean trying them under the same procedures as U.S. soldiers — by court-martial or civilian courts, not military tribunals.
Monday night, Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, who is in charge of the detention mission, defended the temporary cells where detainees are being held — a concrete slab divided by chain-link fences and topped by a corrugated metal roof that some human rights advocates have likened to kennels and cages.
All but two of the 160 cells were occupied Monday, but officials said another 60 would be built in three days and they could put two captives in one cell.
Lehnert said plans are to build a more permanent prison ``exactly in accordance with federal prison standards'' which ``will be much more comfortable.''
At the camp, a new green-and-white sign in Arabic points in the direction of Mecca, which Muslims face to pray.
Lehnert said a Muslim cleric from the U.S. Navy was to arrive Tuesday to discuss religious issues, including whether detainees are allowed to grow hair and beards that were shaved off.
Prison guards said leaders are emerging among the detainees. The Miami Herald said one tried to use a prayer period to rally prisoners, chanting ``Be strong. Allah will save us.''
Prison guards told him to stop, the newspaper reported Monday.
The Herald reported that the most prominent inmate appears to be former Taliban army chief of staff Mullah Fazel Mazloom, though U.S. commanders refuse to identify inmates.
Guards say the prisoners mainly eat, pray and meditate in their open-air cells flooded by security lights at night, and are shackled to go to shower stalls or latrines without doors.
Navy crews on Monday were flattening land with a bulldozer to erect an air-conditioned, tented field hospital for injured prisoners that will include an X-ray machine and two operating tables.