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Guantanamo now holds top terror suspects

07-09-2006

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The most notorious terrorism suspects held by the U.S. are now at Guantanamo Bay, kept in windowless cells in the highest security section of the detention center and facing military tribunals that could begin early next year.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, alleged architects of the Sept. 11 attacks, were taken out of secret CIA custody along with 12 other alleged terrorist leaders and flown to the U.S. base in southeastern Cuba. There, they joined some 445 men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

President Bush announced the transfer as he outlined a plan to resume the military tribunals that were struck down in June by the Supreme Court.

If Congress approves the president's proposal, the military expects to file charges against about 75 detainees and will seek the death penalty in some cases, Guantanamo's chief prosecutor, Air Force Air Force Col. Morris Davis, told The Associated Press.

''Obviously, someone of (Khalid Sheik Mohammed's) magnitude it would be reasonable to expected would be subject to the death penalty,'' Davis said, adding that he is not sure which detainees would be tried and what charges they would face.

Guantanamo officials would say little about the newest detainees, whose arrival brings the overall prisoner population to about 460.

''It is our policy that every detainee ... be treated humanely,'' Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand said.

The detainees were held in the steel-and-concrete Camp 5, one of the newest sections of Guantanamo Bay, which is intended for detainees suspected of the most serious offenses or those considered ''high value'' for intelligence reasons.

Men held in this section are generally allowed outside for exercise for an hour per day behind tall chain-link fences ringed with razor wire. They get their food through a small slot in the door -- an opening that also allows prisoners to shout out to other detainees and at their guards.

Bush said the men would have access to the Red Cross and defense lawyers like all detainees at Guantanamo.

Human Rights groups and defense lawyers welcomed the transfer of the prisoners from secret detention centers to Guantanamo Bay.

''It's heartening to have 14 people who were held completely outside the rule of law brought within the rule of law,'' said Priti Patel, a lawyer with New York-based Human Rights First.

Defense lawyers and human rights groups questioned whether the Bush proposal would meet conditions set by the Supreme Court.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, the military lawyer for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, told CNN that the president's proposal is ''exactly the same rules'' that the Supreme Court already struck down and doesn't provide sufficient legal protections to detainees.

The Department of Defense would have three months after passage of the legislation to come up with new rules for the tribunals, Davis said.

''I'm expecting we will be back in court around the first of the year,'' the chief prosecutor said.

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