WASHINGTON – The 14 terrorism suspects transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention center from overseas CIA prisons arrived in good health, the prison commander said Thursday.
Speaking to reporters by telephone from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris said that "for operational security reasons" he would not reveal any information about the new prisoners' confinement. He would not say, for example, whether they were being held separately from the rest of the prison population.
Harris said he personally signed for custody of the 14 when they arrived from an undisclosed location on Monday.
President Bush announced on Wednesday that he had ordered the 14 suspects — including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and architects of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania — transferred from CIA custody to Pentagon control and moved to Guantanamo Bay.
"They arrived safely and all appeared to be in good condition," Harris said. He would not discuss any details of their transfer, including whether they arrived on a single flight.
"Upon their arrival I personally verified their identification and I personally signed for each and every detainee," he said.
They were moved by vehicles to a dock on the western side of Guantanamo Bay, where they boarded a ferry for movement to the eastern side of the bay, Harris said. "They then were driven to the confinement facility. Upon arrival they began the standard in-processing procedure," which he said included physical and dental examinations.
"They are being provided the same dietary and cultural amenities that are afforded to all other detainees here," he added.
There is now a total of 455 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. The prison received its first detainees in January 2002 — mostly terror suspects captured in Afghanistan.
Harris said the 14 new arrivals would be allowed "at the appropriate time" to meet with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. At Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, officials said Thursday the visits would take place "very soon — in the coming days."
Harris said the 14 will be permitted to send and receive mail, will have access to the Koran in their native language, and will be provided three "culturally sensitive" meals a day, as is the case with other detainees.
They will not be allowed access to lawyers until and unless they are charged with crimes, Whitman said. It's not clear when charges might be filed.
Asked whether the 14 new arrivals will undergo further interrogation, Harris said only that they "will be available for questioning," possibly by agencies other than the Defense Department.