The U.S. government has transferred 14 alleged terrorist leaders to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the first new arrivals at the controversial facility in two years. The men are some of the most highly valued detainees captured in the global war on terrorism.
The detainees who arrived at Guantanamo on Monday include famous terrorist leaders like alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his alleged fellow-plotter Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh and two infamous members of Indonesia's Jamaah Islamiya known as Hambali and Zubair. There are also lesser-known operatives who were allegedly involved in forgery, financing, communications and other duties for al-Qaida and Jamaah Islamiya.
The two organizations are responsible for attacks around the world, including the strike on the USS Cole in Yemen and a series of attacks in Indonesia.
The men have been captured in several locations at various times in recent years, and President Bush said Wednesday they had been held at secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, they hail from 10 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and range in age from about 25 to 42, among those for whom ages were provided.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says their interrogations may continue at Guantanamo, but only under new rules issued Wednesday that protect all U.S. military detainees from abuse.
"They will be available for questioning, as are other detainees in DoD [Department of Defense] custody at Guantanamo," said Mr. Whitman. "It could include questioning by other agencies. Any questioning that's conducted will be done using the current army field manual on interrogations and required by law through the Detainee Treatment Act."
Whitman would not say where the men were held before or which part of Guantanamo's facility will be their new home.
The newest buildings at the detention center are modern prisons with small private cells that keep the detainees separated from each other unless they are allowed to be together during exercise periods in a fenced area outside. Those buildings are for non-cooperative and high-value detainees. The 455 men held at Guantanamo are generally allowed to earn their way to more comfortable communal living quarters through good behavior and cooperation with interrogators.
Whitman said Wednesday that the Guantanamo detainees continue to be important in providing information about terrorist networks, even though many of them have been held for several years. He found the timing of Monday's transfers noteworthy.
"I think as we approach the five-year anniversary here, it's only appropriate that some of these most vicious individuals are facing justice at Guantanamo," he added.
Whitman says that like all detainees at Guantanamo, the new arrivals will be provided with materials for practicing their religion, and will have access to mail, health care, reading materials and exercise. He says they will also be available to be visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who routinely visit the base and have access to all its detainees.