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First night in Cuba 'peaceful' for war detainees

Buses line up outside the C-141 that brought Afghan war detainees to Cuba.
Buses line up outside the C-141 that brought Afghan war detainees to Cuba.  

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) -- Twenty Afghan war detainees spent a "calm and peaceful" first night in a temporary detention center -- 6-by-8 chain-link cells on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the head of security for the detention center said Saturday.

Col. Terry Carrico -- the self-described warden of "Camp X-Ray," the temporary detention compound -- said the inmates carried on some conversation after their arrival Friday afternoon from Afghanistan but were "very fatigued" and slept the night for the most part.

"[Friday] night was very peaceful; I would say it was calm and peaceful," Carrico said. "Once we issued comfort items and got them in their individual units, they were prone, sleeping."

Hundreds of captured al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are expected to be housed at a specially designed facility at a U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. CNN's Bob Franken reports (January 11)

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CNN's Mark Potter looks at the history of the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay and its latest role in housing al Qaeda and Taliban detainees (January 10)

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Background on Guantanamo Bay 

He described security conditions at the camp as "firm and fair," saying he was confident in his troops' abilities and in plans to oversee the prisoners.

"We have positive control of these individuals," he said. "We'll outnumber them whenever they're out of their cells. I'm very confident we have the situation well in hand."

The 20 prisoners were manacled and wore fluorescent orange jump suits, orange ski caps and surgical masks Friday as they were led off the U.S. Air Force C-141 transport plane that brought them to Cuba.

About 40 Marines and Navy medics as well as security personnel, wearing face masks and Kevlar vests, met them on the tarmac. A security perimeter was formed with Humvees, soldiers with machine guns, and grenade launchers.

The surgical masks were necessary, according to Maj. Steve Cox of the U.S. Marine Corps, because several detainees have tested positive for tuberculosis, but Carrico said Saturday that there were no confirmed cases of TB. The detainees will be given chest X-rays to determine the presence of the disease.

The detainees also wore blacked-out goggles with tape over their eyes. U.S. military personnel frisked each detainee, and some resisted, falling to their knees. They were picked up by their necks amid much shouting.

The shouting, Cox said, came from Arabic translators, who tried to penetrate the earplugs worn by captives due to the high level of noise on the flight.

After getting off the plane, the detainees were loaded onto a bus and then a ferry for the ride to Camp X-Ray. They received medical exams and showers and were photographed, fingerprinted and interrogated before being led to individual outdoor cages. They will be kept there until a permanent detention center can be built.

The "cells" have a chain-link fence perimeter, a concrete floor and a wooden roof but are otherwise open to the elements. The U.S. military sprayed the complex to try to eradicate mosquitoes.

The detainees have a foam rubber sleeping mat and two towels -- one for bathing and another for a prayer mat, Cox said. They also will receive a bar of soap, a squeeze bottle of shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and flip-flop sandals for showers.

Carrico added that the prisoners will be given a copy of the Koran as part of their "comfort items."

As for meals, Cox said, there will be three per day. Breakfast and dinner will be hot meals, with water as a beverage. They'll also have access to cereal, raisins, peanuts and granola bars.

Another 30 detainees arrived Saturday at the airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where Camp X-Ray's new residents were held before their flight to Cuba. The total being held at the Kandahar airfield is 391.

The Guantanamo base, 45 square miles of barren land on the edge of cliffs high above the Caribbean Sea, is a secure and remote facility on the southeastern end of Cuba. More than 3,000 U.S. military service members, civilians and their families live at the base.

The United States wrested Guantanamo Bay -- discovered by Europeans in 1494 -- from the Spanish during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and established a base there. In 1903, the United States leased the land from the Republic of Cuba. Under the agreement now in effect, the United States can retain possession as long as it pays the annual rent.




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