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Red Cross to Remain at Guantanamo for Several Days - 2002-01-18

Another 30 Taleban and al-Qaida prisoners arrived at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Thursday. The new arrivals will raise to 110 the total number of detainees held at the remote military facility on the southeastern part of the island. Meanwhile, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross also arrived at Guantanamo Bay.

ICRC spokesman Kim Gordon-Bates says the delegation will remain at the U.S. naval station for several days to inspect living conditions at the hastily-constructed detention facility that began receiving prisoners last week. Mr. Gordon-Bates says the goal is to ensure basic rights and minimum standards for the prisoners.

"You should be able to maintain your dignity as a human being, no matter what the circumstances [are] and no matter what crime you may have committed," he said. "You cannot degrade, humiliate or torture people, that is the first thing. Your detention conditions should meet minimum standards. You should be fed properly according to your customs. You should be able to exercise your religious rights. You should be able to correspond with your family, and that is one thing we will offer: if there is no such capability at Guantanamo [we will deliver] what we call 'Red Cross messages.'"

The four-member ICRC team includes a physician. U.S. officials approved the Red Cross visit, even though the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have not been granted formal prisoner-of-war status.

Some human rights groups have criticized the detention camp's design, suggesting the small, open-air chain link cells resemble cages.

But Pentagon officials are expressing confidence the ICRC will conclude detainees are being treated humanely at Guantanamo Bay, noting that prisoners are receiving "culturally appropriate" meals and have access to copies of the Koran.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says just how long the prisoners will remain at the naval base is not known. "It is conceivable some could be kept in detention for a period [of time] while additional intelligence information is gathered or, if they simply are dangerous," he said. "And there is no question there are a number [of prisoners] down in Guantanamo Bay who, anytime anyone walks by [the detention facility] threaten to kill Americans the first chance they get. These are quite dangerous people."

A permanent prison facility capable of housing up to 2,000 detainees is under construction at Guantanamo Bay and is expected to be completed in several months.