RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
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President Bush has announced that fourteen high-value terror suspects have been transferred to the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The president says the men had been held and interrogated at secret CIA prisons around the world. It's the first time the Bush administration has acknowledged such prisons exist.
NPR national security correspondent Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: The 14 new prisoners at Guantanamo Bay include key figures within the al-Qaida network. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, as was Ramzi Binalshibh, and Abu Zubaydah, an alleged link between Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida cells. For several years there's been speculation about where these and other major suspects have been held and how they've been treated during interrogation. Their arrival at Guantanamo comes as the Bush administration is under increased international and congressional criticism of the military base, the open-ended detentions, interrogation methods and the means of trying prisoners.
Marvin Ott of the National War College says moving Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the others to Guantanamo is a way of validating the operation there.
Professor MARVIN OTT (Professor of National Security Policy, National War College): By moving what everybody acknowledges to be very high value prisoners from CIA sites to Guantanamo, the administration is in effect saying I dare you to put further restrictions on what we can do at Guantanamo because look who we've got there and look who just might get released under some sort of diminution of our freedom of action.
NORTHAM: When he announced the prisoner transfer, President Bush also laid out a proposal for how suspected terrorists should be tried. Only ten detainees of the more than 440 still remaining at the base have been charged. Their trials are now on hold while Congress and the administration wrangle with the legal standards that should be used.
Analysts are concerned that the rules don't give defendants sufficient rights. Eugene Fidell, the president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says it's unlikely President Bush's new proposal will resolve the issue.
Mr. EUGENE FIDELL (President, National Institute of Military Justice): The present approach of the administration, assuming it leads to legislation, is going to provoke additional litigation. I think this, on one level, looks like we're moving towards a conclusion. But on another level, I think it condemns us to an additional period of uncertainty.
NORTHAM: And that uncertainty will likely lead to more criticism. There's already widespread condemnation of the lack of due process for the detainees. More than 300 from Guantanamo have been released or transferred back to their home countries, but another 120 are in limbo. The administration has determined that either they're not enemy combatants or they no longer pose a serious threat to the U.S. or its allies. And yet the men still remain at Guantanamo.
One reason is because the administration has genuine concerns that some prisoners could be persecuted if sent back home. John Sifton is with Human Rights Watch.
Mr. JOHN SIFTON (Researcher, Human Rights Watch): China, for instance, it's widely believed that if we returned ethnic (unintelligible) Muslim Chinese to China, they would be tortured. And certainly we are concerned about Yemen and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Jordan, Morocco; all have records of torture, so we've always had concern about detainees being sent back to those countries.
NORTHAM: There's another reason some detainees are not being sent home. The administration can't get assurances that the men won't just be released upon their arrival, says Scott Silliman with Duke University.
Mr. SCOTT SILLIMAN (Professor of law, Duke University): We're putting the condition on each one of them that they've got to be kept off the street. They have got to be confined or restrained in some way in that country. And the answer coming back is, you never charged them with an offense. How, therein, do we have the grounds to hold them?
NORTHAM: President Bush has said several times that he would like to see Guantanamo closed. But there are many legal and logistical problems to overcome before that happens. In the meantime, the operation at Guantanamo grows: new facilities for the troops, new wind generators to provide electricity, and new hard-walled maximum-security prisons which will likely be home for the new arrivals.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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