GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The first detainee to arrive from Afghanistan at Guantanamo, the U.S. naval base in southern Cuba, appeared just before 3 p.m. in the rear doorway of the Air Force C-141 transport, a manacled figure in a fluorescent-orange jumpsuit and matching cap.
Wearing goggles and a turquoise-blue face mask and appearing to limp, he was frisked by Marine military police, then loaded onto a waiting bus for his transfer to "Camp X-Ray" — the rudimentary compound of open-air cells that may be his home for a long time to come.
The procedure was repeated 19 more times as the fighters were unloaded at this remote naval station in the Caribbean that is rapidly being transformed into an international terrorist detention facility.
The arrival of the first group of captives from the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan came exactly four months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.
"These represent the worst elements of the al-Qaida and the Taliban — we asked for the bad guys first," said Brigadier General Michael Lehnert, the commander of Joint Task Force 160, the military group brought together a week ago to oversee the incarceration of the enemy fighters.
"These are people that would gnaw hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference. "These are very, very dangerous people, and that's how they're being treated."
Six of the detainees appeared to resist as they were led off the plane and searched. Twice, military police forced a detainee to his knees briefly, then lifted him back up again.
The detainees were loaded onto two white buses waiting at the base's single airstrip. The buses then were driven onto a Navy ferry for the 20-minute ride across the bay to Camp X-Ray. Ten representatives of the U.S. news media were allowed to view the airstrip operation from a grassy hill about 400 yards way. However, no cameras were permitted at the site beyond those used by military photographers.
The operation employed the highest security measures. Four Humvees, including three equipped with 50-caliber machine guns and another with a grenade launcher, were ranged around the plane. Forty Marine military police officers with rifles, helmets and face shields stood ready to load the detainees.
Navy medics were on hand, as were two Army soldiers to handle paperwork. A Navy Huey helicopter passed repeatedly over the scene, and an ambulance and several fire trucks were parked nearby.
Though some of the detainees wore leg shackles, none were hooded, as they had been when they boarded the plane in Afghanistan more than 24 hours earlier. At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that one detainee was sedated during the flight — "but that's all."
He and other officials said the use of hoods, shackles and sedatives to transport the captives was appropriate and necessary.
Being shackled for so many hours may have been why some of the detainees looked shaky as they were taken from the plane. Some who appeared to resist may simply have been unsteady on their feet.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a joint task force spokesman. "Several thoughts went through my mind — I don't know if any of them had been on a plane before. They may have been disoriented and regaining their legs."
While defending their mode of handling the prisoners, Pentagon officials continued to bar news organizations from transmitting photographs of the transport — either as the detainees left Afghanistan or when they arrived at Guantanamo.
"You can't take pictures of them," Rumsfeld said. "That's considered embarrassing for them, and they can't be interviewed, according to the Geneva Convention."
The American Society of Newspaper Editors Friday asked Rumsfeld to release the photos.
"Whatever the reasoning for suppressing these photos, it should be clear that any problem rests with the handling of prisoners and not with the coverage," Tim McGuire, president of the organization, wrote in a letter to Rumsfeld.
Military legal experts interviewed Friday said that while the Geneva Conventions protect prisoners against being made objects of "public curiosity," there are no express restrictions against news organizations taking or publishing photographs of POWs. They said the language is generally interpreted as meaning that prisoners should not be paraded in public and subjected to abuse from crowds.
This U.S. naval base, known as Gitmo, the only one located in a communist country, is prepared to receive about 80 more detainees at Camp X-Ray, which is described as a temporary compound. Workers are constructing more permanent facilities that can eventually house about 2,000 people. Currently, there are 361 detainees still in Kandahar. Lehnert said Friday that he expects "periodic shipments" of more detainees, although he said he is not sure how often or how soon they will arrive.
At Camp X-Ray, Lehnert said, the detainees will receive humane but not comfortable treatment. They will sleep on mats in the single-occupant, 6-foot-by-8-foot cells that have wooden roofs and open chain-link fence sides. They will have "the ability to relieve themselves" in the cells but will be taken to latrines one by one by military police if necessary, according to Col. Terry Carrico, who is supervising security at the camp.
The detainees will be fed a pork-free diet in deference to Islamic practice, Lehnert said, and will be allowed to "practice the free expression of their religious beliefs."
The former enemy fighters have not yet been granted prisoner-of-war status, meaning that the U.S. military is not obliged to follow the Geneva Convention but must act in accordance with international law. Representatives of the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent are here to ensure they are treated humanely.