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Guantanamo Bay Camp Readies for More Detainees - 2002-02-03

Officials at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba say flights transporting additional detainees from Afghanistan will likely resume "soon."

The commanding officer of the task force in charge of the detainee operation, Brigadier General Michael Lehnert, says construction at Camp X-Ray has boosted holding capacity to 320. The open-air facility currently houses 158 detainees, and there have been no new arrivals for over a week.

At a news conference, General Lehnert said that will almost certainly change, although he does not know precisely when. "I have an expectation that we are going to resume flights," he said. "Obviously we would not have brought in troops and to continue construction of Camp X-Ray if we did not have that expectation."

The general confirmed that interrogation of the detainees is continuing, as the United States attempts to learn more about potential terrorist threats plotted by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. But he went out of his way to stress that the questioning is not abusive in nature.

"The questioning that goes on is within the bounds of normal legal procedures that are in effect in the United States," said General Lehnert. For example, there is no torture, there are no whips, there are no bright lights. There is no drugging [of detainees]. We are a nation of laws and we are committed to humane treatment of all [people], including detainees."

Overall, officials have been eager to highlight what they describe as the humane treatment of the prisoners, responding to recent criticism by some European officials and human rights groups.

General Lehnert said the detainees brought to Guantanamo Bay so far represent 25 nations. For the first time since Camp X-Ray opened last month, he mentioned one of those countries by name: Saudi Arabia. The general said he felt at liberty to divulge that fact since the Saudi government recently stated that more than 100 of their citizens are in U.S. custody.

On another matter, General Lehnert said contingencies have been drawn up in the event Guantanamo Bay is struck by a hurricane. The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June. The general said the naval base already has hurricane proof shelters, such as underground ammunition bunkers, that could be adapted to temporarily house the detainees in the event of a major storm.