U.S. ships 20 prisoners to detention in Cuba
President Bush warned Iran not to interfere in neighboring Afghanistan or harbor fleeing terrorists.
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL STATION, Cuba -- Twenty war prisoners from Afghanistan were crossing the globe today from frozen Central Asia to tropical eastern Cuba, where U.S. troops awaited their flight under extraordinarily tight security.
Upon their arrival at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, the group of Al-Qaida and Taliban fighter suspects were to be whisked away for a 20-minute ferry ride to their detention camp, where they were to be photographed, fingerprinted and issued bright orange jumpsuits, Navy spokesman Lt. Bill Salvin said.
At the so-called Camp X-ray, the prisoners will be isolated in temporary individual cells with walls of chain-link fence and metal roofs, where they will sleep on mats under halogen floodlights. The camp is surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers.
"We're going to get them to X-ray as quickly as possible," Salvin said.
Tightest security: In light of bloody uprisings staged by other Al-Qaida and Taliban captives, the detainees are being held under extraordinary security.
Authorities tightened security at the base Thursday night to prepare for prisoners, declining to discuss details.
The 20 prisoners left the U.S. Marine base at Kandahar International Airport in southern Afghanistan earlier Thursday wearing hoods. They were to have been chained to their seats in the Air Force C-17, possibly sedated, and be fed by their guards, according to USA Today and television reports.
The New York Times reported that the flight was expected to make one stop before landing in Cuba today.
As the prisoners were being transported to Cuba, the United States turned its attention to other countries.
Warning to Iran: President Bush told Iran on Thursday that it faces serious retribution from the United States if it tries to destabilize the new interim government in Afghanistan or provides a haven for fleeing terrorists.
After months of tentative post-Sept. 11 cooperation, Bush's sharp words raised questions about the future of what many U.S. officials had hoped was a budding relationship between the two countries.
Bush commented amid intelligence reports that some Osama bin Laden loyalists had crossed over Afghanistan's 600-mile border with Iran. U.S. officials also have become concerned about attempts by Iran to extend its political and military influence into western Afghanistan.
Bush made clear that the United States is prepared to respond with more than rhetoric. He said that if Iranian officials "in any way, shape or form try to destabilize the [Afghan] government," the United States and its anti-Taliban allies will "deal with them ... in diplomatic ways -- initially."
"Iran must be a contributor in the war against terror," Bush said. "Our nation and our fight against terror will uphold the doctrine: Either you're with us or against us. And any nation that thwarts our ability to rout terror out where it exists will be held to account, one way or the other."
In the Philippines: Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged Thursday that U.S. Army Special Forces are involved in training Philippine army forces to root out Al-Qaida terrorists known as the Abu Sayyaf group embedded in the jungles of the remote southern islands.
This week, U.S. troops began building a base in Zamboanga City on the southern island of Mindanao. Philippine defense officials say they expect 100 U.S. troops to arrive next month to train 5,000 Filipino troops to track down Abu Sayyaf guerrillas entrenched in several of the southern islands with speedboats and Pakistani-made guns. The United States also is supplying the Philippines with eight Huey helicopters, a cargo plane, rifles and other logistics equipment.
In other developments:
UMilitary troops scoured the remote landscape of southwestern Pakistan today for the bodies of seven U.S. Marines killed in the crash of their tanker plane. Investigators tried to determine what sent the aircraft into a mountain.
A Pakistani official at the Shamsi base near the bleak town of Washki, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some body parts had been found near where the KC-130 exploded Wednesday night. The crash produced the largest U.S. casualty toll of the anti-terror war.
UU.S. Marines hunted today for gunmen who attacked their airport base in Kandahar. The attack triggered a brief but intense gunbattle, the first on the base since the Marines dug in a month ago. Officers said that the attack, which erupted as a C-17 transport plane lumbered down the runway with Al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners on board, was unconnected to the transfer.
UPresident Bush signed a defense spending bill Thursday that he said is a down-payment on his pledge to give the nation's military "every tool, every weapon and every advantage you need" to fight terrorism.
Bush went to the Pentagon, which still bears scars from the hijacked jet that hit it, and signed legislation that sets aside $317.2 billion for Defense Department operations in the budget year that began Oct. 1. The bill also earmarks an additional $20 billion for the military campaign in Afghanistan and recovery from the September attacks.