Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has announced plans to hold Taleban and al-Qaida detainees from Afghanistan at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Mr. Rumsfeld said preparations are under way to use Guantanamo as a detention facility, though he says it will take several weeks to get things ready. He also told reporters at the Pentagon no decision has been made to use the base in Cuba for possible military trials of Taleban and al-Qaida prisoners. "We are making preparations to hold detainees there," he said. We have made no plans to hold any kind of tribunal there."
Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged there are disadvantages to using the base but he described it as better than the unspecified alternatives that were considered. He also said he does not believe Cuban leader Fidel Castro will object. "We don't anticipate any trouble with Mr. Castro in that regard," he said. "I would characterize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as the least worst place we could have selected. It has disadvantages as you suggest. Its disadvantages however seem to be modest relative to the alternatives."
Thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees were housed at the base temporarily during the 1990's.
U.S. forces are currently holding 45 Taleban and al-Qaida fighters, including 20 captured in Pakistan and handed over to the United States. Most are being held at a detention center at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan. Several are on a U.S ship in the Arabian sea, including the so-called American Taleban, John Walker Lindh.
Mr. Rumsfeld is meanwhile dismissing new reports that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has escaped into Pakistan. He said he has seen so many conflicting reports about the fugitive terrorist that he has stopped tracking them. "We hear six, seven, eight, 10, 12 conflicting reports every day," he said. "I've stopped chasing them. We do know of certain knowledge he is either in Afghanistan or some other country or dead and we know of certain knowledge that we don't know which of those happens to be the case."
While the search for al-Qaida escapees continues in the Tora Bora region, the Pentagon said U.S. aircraft have bombed a compound near the eastern town of Ghazni. The target was thought to house senior Taleban officials.