GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Detainees accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks, the USS Cole bombing and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are expected to face hearings within three months to determine whether they are enemy combatants.
Fourteen "high-value" detainees -- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- will be invited to appear at the hearings at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, said Navy Capt. Phil Waddingham, director of the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants.
Mohammed was believed to be the No. 3 Al Qaeda leader before he was captured in Pakistan in 2003. If he appears, it would mark the first time he has been seen in public since his capture.
Detainees can refuse to appear but the tribunals will be held regardless, Waddingham told reporters Wednesday.
Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks and being a lead operative for a foiled plot to crash aircraft into London's Heathrow Airport, is also among the 14 captives. Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many Al Qaeda cells before he was captured in Pakistan in 2002, is also among the 14.
The 14 terrorism suspects are undergoing "orientation" and not being interrogated, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock told a group of reporters at the Pentagon.
The detainees were recently transferred from CIA custody to this isolated U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, President Bush announced on Sept. 6.
Army Brig. Gen. Edward A. Leacock, the deputy commander of Guantanamo, said the new detainees are being treated humanely. Authorities have said they are being held in a maximum-security area but Leacock refused to say precisely where.
"They're all adapting well to their new environment," Leacock said in an interview with reporters here, adding that they're fed three times a day, have recreational opportunities and have opportunities to pray five times daily.
The detainees are being checked for medical and dental problems and have been given materials to write letters, which will be given to the Red Cross for mailing after they are censored by the military, Leacock said.
The Red Cross announced in Geneva Wednesday that its representatives will travel to Guantanamo to visit the 14 detainees next week.
Waddingham told reporters visiting Guantanamo that the Combatant Status Review Tribunals for Mohammed and the other 13 detainees would be open to the press, he said.
"I am expecting the CSRTs to begin in two or three months," he said.
All of roughly 450 detainees at Guantanamo, who began arriving in 2002, have gone through status review tribunals. The tribunals for the 14 new arrivals almost certainly will be held using the same procedures, Waddingham said.
The tribunals are conducted by a three-member military panel, which examines evidence against a detainee, can speak to witnesses, and determines if the detainee is an enemy combatant and should be held. The detainee is represented by U.S. military counsel.
Those judged not to be enemy combatants are generally transferred out of Guantanamo to their home countries. Those determined to be enemy combatants stay locked up here. They then face annual Administrative Review Boards that examine whether they still pose a threat to the United States or have intelligence value.
Congress and the Bush administration are currently working on guidelines on how detainees should be interrogated and put on trial. Ten Guantanamo detainees have been charged with crimes but their military trials were put on hold after the Supreme Court last June ruled that the tribunals were illegal -- partly because the Bush administration had set them up without Congressional approval.
Craddock, who oversees U.S. military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean as commander of U.S. Southern Command, estimated that the 14 would be made available to the Red Cross around Oct. 1, but not before they completed their orientation.
In Geneva on Wednesday, the chief spokesman for the ICRC, Antonella Notari, said officials plan to arrive Sept. 25 for a scheduled two-week visit to Guantanamo. The ICRC is the only neutral agency with full access to Guantanamo detainees.