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War in Afghanistan Update

January 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The military transport with the first contingent of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners on board arrived at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, this afternoon. 20 of them completed the 20-hour journey from Afghanistan from the cold mountains of Afghanistan to a tropical island 8,000 miles away. Ultra tight security kept news organizations cameras well away from the base, as the detainees were loaded on to two white buses on the tarmac. Described by officials as the worst of the worst, the prisoners will be held in individual six by eight foot chain linked cells. The outdoor pens were constructed in an area called Camp X-Ray. The detainees will wear orange prison suits and face a new phase of interrogation. At the Pentagon today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers was asked if the treatment of the first prisoners of the war to arrive on U.S.-controlled soil was a violation of their human rights.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It simply isn’t. I asked if anyone had had to be sedated. And the answer was that there was one person who was sedated during the course of the trip from Kandahar to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But that’s all. And the prisoners– all one has to do is look at television any day of the week, and you can see when prisoners are being moved between locations, they’re frequently restrained in some way with handcuffs or some sort of restraints. They will be handled not as prisoners of war, because they’re not, but as unlawful combatants. As I understand it, technically unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention. We have indicated that we do plan to, for the move part, treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent that they’re appropriate, and that is exactly what we have been doing.

REPORTER: Will we be allowed to see a list of exactly who the detainees are?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I don’t know. There are a bunch of lawyers looking at all these treaties and conventions and everything trying to figure out what is appropriate. The only thing I did notice is you can’t take pictures of them. That’s considered embarrassing for them and they can’t be interviewed according to the Geneva Convention.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: We’ve got to remember that these are very dangerous people. These are people that would gnaw through hydraulic lines to bring it down. These are very dangerous people and that’s how they’re being treated. At the same time, let me give you context on how they’re going to be handled when they hit the Guantanamo Bay. The meals will be served, culturally appropriate for them, and so, I mean, we’re going to try to do our best to treat them humanely, at the same time realizing they’re very dangerous people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld was asked about reports Taliban leaders arrested by Afghan opposition forces had cut deals and were released.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I have read those reports and I’ve tracked them down two days in a row. We can’t verify that that ever happened; that there were ever those people in custody; that anyone– it’s hard to be released if you were never in custody.

REPORTER: You’re saying it didn’t happen?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m saying precisely what I said that for two days I’ve tried to track down these fascinating stories I’ve been reading in the press, and hearing debated on television, and I’m not able to do so.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, in the wake of last night’s outbreak of gunfire as the prisoner transport departed the Kandahar Marine base said further threats will not delay prisoner transfers.

LT. JAMES JARVIS: I do not think it will affect the speed with which we move detainees out of here. Quite simply, these were two isolated incidents and we are going to continue as the Secretary of Defense has said, to move the detainees to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because that’s where they belong, not here.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the Afghan capital of Kabul today, demilitarization continued. Interim government officials declared the city weapons-free though reports of random property crime continue.