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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time, the International Committee of the Red Cross met this week with 14 suspected al Qaeda operatives held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including the reputed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, said sources with direct knowledge of the visit.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of planning the 2001 attacks and former No. 3 leader of al Qaeda, and Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be September 11 hijacker, were among the 14 prisoners to meet with Red Cross officials.
The detainees were transferred to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay from secret CIA prisons around the world. President Bush acknowledged the use of CIA prisons outside U.S. borders for the first time September 6.
Bush said then that the 14 detainees would be transferred to Guantanamo and a military tribunal would hear their cases.
International Committee of the Red Cross members had planned to meet with each of the suspects privately and relay messages to their families, Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno said last month. The military censors all messages to and from the prisoners.
The visit is a way for detainees to share concerns about their detentions and conditions and any claims of ill treatment, Schorno said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross will use the visits to become better informed about Guantanamo's conditions and will share that information with authorities if necessary, he added.
Human rights groups and other critics repeatedly have called for the United States to close the prison at Guantanamo, alleging such violations as torture and religious discrimination.
In addition, a report last month by Amnesty International alleged that Pakistan abducted hundreds of people for the purpose of fetching "rewards" and transferring them to Guantanamo Bay or detention centers elsewhere. (Full story)
On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett called detentions of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo "unacceptable" and "ineffective" as she released Britain's annual report on human rights around the world, according to The Associated Press. (Full story)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense said Thursday it transferred 16 detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan and one detainee to Morocco. The transfers were recommended after several review processes, the agency said.
About 335 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo into the custody of other countries, leaving some 440 prisoners in Cuba.
About 110 detainees who are eligible for transfer or release remain at Guantanamo, according to defense officials.
A member of the U.S. military stands watch near prisoners inside Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay in May.