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Mike Chinoy: Marines setting up detention center


(CNN) -- U.S. Marines have moved into the Kandahar airport and are working to secure it. CNN's Mike Chinoy filed the following report from Camp Rhino, which is in the desert just south of Kandahar:

CHINOY: The mission of the Marines is changing as more and more of the troops are being moved from Camp Rhino here in the desert to Kandahar airport, which the Marines seized on Friday.

We're being told that, among the things going on at Kandahar airport now, are preparations to set up a detention and interrogation center. A site has been picked and work will begin shortly. That center is expected to be able to hold between 100 and 300 al Qaeda and Taliban hard-core fighters. Those fighters are either expected to be captured, or to surrender as the fighting continues at Tora Bora.

Interpreters are ready. So, too, are interrogation experts. Marine officers say that the information gleaned from, particularly, the al Qaeda fighters could be absolutely crucial in the broader campaign to crush international terrorism and the al Qaeda.

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There is concern about security, because al Qaeda prisoners elsewhere in Afghanistan have revolted in custody. There's also concern about whether, given their fanaticism, they'll actually be prepared to reveal anything. But Marine officers say that they have interrogation techniques and they're confident they will be able to get something once those prisoners are brought down to Kandahar airport.

In addition, we're told that a 19-member team of experts in detecting chemical, biological and nuclear weapons was brought to Kandahar airport on Friday, in the initial wave of Marines who seized the airport. There was some concern that the airport, which had been a key al Qaeda and Taliban operations center until a few days ago, might harbor some traces of chemical or biological weapons. We're told no such traces were found.

Security at Kandahar airport is still a major concern. The Marines continue to scour the airport for mines and booby traps. A surface-to-air missile piece of equipment was identified, which at one point prompted a delay in flights of troops and supplies from here at Camp Rhino into Kandahar airport. That turned out to be a SAM site that belonged to friendly forces.

But with so many of the Afghan fighters having changed sides, with so many weapons having changed sides, the Marines say that it's still difficult to determine friend from foe. And so they're on very high security alert at Kandahar airport.

CNN: Mike, I understand, on another note, you have some new information involving John Walker, the U.S. citizen that was arrested, fighting for the Taliban.

CHINOY: That's correct. John Walker was held here at Camp Rhino, in custody until Friday, when he was flown to the USS Peleliu, a Marine vessel off the coast of Pakistan.

According to someone who saw him regularly, Walker was being kept in conditions that were described as similar to those in which the ordinary Marines are living. He was given medical care -- seen by medical personnel twice a day, given blankets. He communicated very, very little. In answer to questions, I'm told, he simply had one or two-syllable responses. Really not very communicative at all.

He's now in the brig on the USS Peleliu where, presumably, interrogations will continue. The U.S. trying to decide whether he will be dealt with in the military or the civilian justice system. We are told, while here, though, that he did not cut the beard that he had grown as a symbol of his commitment to Islam and his loyalty to the Taliban.


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