U.S. Making Changes at Guantanamo Bay Prison

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The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, recently took in a group of 14 detainees previously held in secret CIA prisons. Now, major security overhauls are set to take place at the facility.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. President Bush is encountering opposition on Capitol Hill to his plan to use military commissions to try 14 terror suspects recently transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay, and the opposition is coming from members of his own party.

Senator John Warner is convening a meeting of his Armed Services Committee today to consider an alternative plan which he says is more in line with the Geneva Conventions. There have been new questions raised about the treatment of terror suspects since President Bush last week acknowledged the existence of those secret prisons.

NPR national security correspondent Jackie Northam is in Guantanamo Bay, and she joins us now. And, Jackie, remind us of those 14 men. Who are they?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Renee, they're what the administration calls high-value terrorist suspects. The 14 are either members of al-Qaida, suspected members of al-Qaida, or certainly have links to the organization. It includes key al-Qaida figures such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi bin Al Shibh and Abu Zubaida. They were picked up in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Thailand and were held and interrogated at secret CIA prisons for several years before being transferred here to Guantanamo Bay early last week.

MONTAGNE: And do you have any more details of where they are being held at the base and under what conditions?

NORTHAM: Well, they're being held in the highest security section of the detention center in individual cells, and they're still subjected to interrogation if necessary. They're now under the custody of the Department of Defense, but certainly the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies do have access to the men if needed.

I interviewed Rear Admiral Harry Harris yesterday, and he's the commander of the military task force here at Guantanamo. He said he didn't expect the transfer of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the others to dramatically change operations here. But Admiral Harris agreed that their arrival throws a massive spotlight again on the operation here. Already there have been senators down here to meet with the command to ask about interrogation techniques.

You know, I've been coming down here for more than three years, and you get a sense of the place and it's rhythms. And there's certainly more activity here now - planes arriving and leaving at unscheduled hours - and the security operation has been stepped up. Last night they secured some of the waterways around the base.

MONTAGNE: And, Jackie, do you have any idea of what happens to this 14 men now?

NORTHAM: Well, they're expected to go before a tribunal fairly soon, which will officially determine if they're what the administration calls an enemy combatant. That's what every new detainee goes through here. The chief prosecutor here at Guantanamo says that he hopes to charge the 14 men, as well as a couple of dozen others, early next year. And, you know, some of them could face the death penalty. In the meantime, though, they'll be sitting in a cell waiting to be charged and face trial just like, roughly, the other 450 detainees here at Guantanamo have been doing now, really, Renee, for more -almost four years now.

MONTAGNE: And, Jackie, just stay with us for a few moments while we turn to another conversation.

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