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Gunfire erupts after detainees leave for Cuba

U.S. Marines escort hooded and shackled detainees at Kandahar airport for the flight to Cuba
U.S. Marines escort hooded and shackled detainees at Kandahar airport for the flight to Cuba  

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. Marines responded to enemy gunfire that erupted Thursday night at Kandahar airport after a heavily secured flight left with 20 captive Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, military officials said. The captives will initially be held in cages at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Marines answered the small arms fire with M-16 rifles and machine guns, and two U.S. Marine Cobra helicopters lifted off as tracer fire crisscrossed the north end of the airport while the C-17 carrying the prisoners took off. The gunfire ended shortly after it began.

The airport remained dark, with the exception of floodlights above the detention facility itself.

Bob Franken: Extremely tight security at Camp X-Ray 

The hooded prisoners, watched by guard dogs on the tarmac nearby, boarded the C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft in groups of 10 about 8:30 p.m. (11 a.m. EST). They were chained in their seats for the 8,000-mile trip.

Asked if the prisoners were sedated, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said only that the military had been authorized and instructed to use "appropriate restraint."

"They are fully aware that these are dangerous individuals," Rumsfeld said.

The detainees, who had been wearing blue jumpsuits during their stay in Kandahar, had changed to orange jumpsuits, reported CNN's Bill Hemmer.

Pentagon officials said U.S. Air Force crews providing security for the flights received special training at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

The trip was expected to take about 20 hours, excluding a refueling stop.

As a security precaution, the military refused to say what route the plane is taking or where it will stop. Originally, the military had said that the detainees would be transferred to a C-141.

Officials described the departure as orderly, and one said it could serve as a trial run for later such journeys. There was no word on how many detainees might be transferred to Guantanamo.

The number of detainees held by U.S. forces at the Kandahar airport swelled to 351 with the addition of 45 Wednesday night.

At the detention area in Cuba, each detainee is to be kept in an outdoor cell -- with a wooden ceiling and sides made of chain-link fencing -- until construction of a detention facility is completed. The base currently can accommodate 100 prisoners, but will be able to handle 2,000 in the future. Floodlights and machine-gun toting Marines also are part of the heavy security.

Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said U.S. federal courts have ruled that anyone held at Guantanamo has no constitutional rights, such as the right to legal counsel or other rights accorded to criminal defendants.

The military is considering whether to hold military tribunals at Guantanamo for some of the detainees.

In 1994, tens of thousands of Cuban and Haitian migrants were held at the base after being picked up while trying to sail to Florida.




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