Bob Franken: Extremely tight security at Camp X-Ray
(CNN) -- The U.S. military contingent in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prepared Thursday for the arrival of the first group of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees captured by allied forces in Afghanistan.
Security at the base is extremely tight, as CNN Correspondent Bob Franken learned firsthand. He spoke with CNN's Daryn Kagan from Guantanamo.
KAGAN: Bob, have you received word there that this first group is on the way?
FRANKEN: Well, the best evidence of it, Daryn, is that we, the press, are being thrown off of the base. We were brought here by the Defense Department yesterday to report on the preparations for the high-security prison camp that is being set up. But now, they are hustling reporters off. They are saying that there are significant security concerns that they have. Of course, the media are arguing that this is an important, historic event that needs to be covered by an independent media. That discussion continues, and there's been a delay about the press being asked to leave.
But there is every indication that they're expecting tomorrow the arrival of this first group of detainees. And as we saw and have been reporting, they are going to be arriving in an extremely high-security facility. It's called Camp X-Ray. It was known to many people during the mid-90s as the refugee detention center for Haitians and Cubans who were passing through Guantanamo Bay. But now it has been turned into a camp that is just about as high-security as one could expect.
The detainees themselves -- and that's of course a term the Pentagon prefers -- the detainees themselves will be kept in what are called outdoor cells. Others have suggested that they are really cages. They are small cubicles -- each individual will have one -- that has a wooden top and then nothing more than chain-link fence, exposing the person to the elements but of course also making him always available to be seen. There will be floodlights at all times.
The camp will be surrounded by machine-gun toting Marines and military police and other security people and people with a variety of other weapons outside, and dogs. Inside, there will be no weapons for the guards, of course the feeling being that they would not like to allow any opportunity for an uprising to result in those weapons getting into the wrong hands.
There is extreme security, and although the officials here estimate that they're going to follow the Geneva Conventions governing prisoners of war, even though they don't consider these POWs, that they're going to be treated humanely. There's certainly going to be no nonsense. Putting it as one of the security people did, there will no freedom of movement, no chance to get over this barbed wire.
And I should point out, Daryn, that Guantanamo base, of course, right in a hostile Cuba over the decades now, is surrounded by 17 and a half miles of fence, similar fence on the Cuban side, and a minefield in between.
KAGAN: Bob, you described the facilities. What's actually going to happen to these men when they're brought here?
FRANKEN: They're going to be processed. They're going to be, in fact, in a very, very stern manner put through the process. One can expect that they're going to go through a variety of interrogations, they're going to be awaiting the arrival of others. At the moment, Guantanamo officials say they can accommodate about 100. Ultimately, they hope to be able to have a capacity of 2,000.
And this prison camp is going to be replaced, according to the plans, by a building that is under construction now, that will amount to a maximum-security prison, although they don't like to call it that. I would mention one other thing; they are saying that they will be here for an indeterminate period of time. And yet there are no plans, we're told, no plans at this point, about setting up military tribunals. A lot of unanswered questions, but some of them will be answered with the arrival of this first group expected tomorrow.
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