GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) -- A team from the international Red Cross began meeting with prisoners Friday to evaluate whether the U.S. military is violating the rights of more than 100 captives taken from Afghanistan to this arid Caribbean outpost.
It is up to the prisoners to decide whether they want to talk to Red Cross staffers, who are expected to remain at the U.S. base for a week and return for subsequent visits, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Darcy Christen said in Geneva.
"It's our first visit, and we plan to repeat it. We will have a series of visits for as long as the prisoners are held at the base," he said. "But it is a prisoner's choice whether he wants to meet with ICRC staff."
The Red Cross visit is the first time independent experts have been given a look at Camp X-ray. Human rights advocates say the prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions. The U.S. military maintains that strict security is necessary for the fighters, who it says are ready to kill their captors if given a chance -- but it insists the prisoners' rights are respected.
As the latest batch of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners settled in their hastily built, individual chain-link cells, bringing the total number to 110, four ICRC members met with U.S. officials, then began the first of their interviews with detainees.
The Red Cross team, which included a doctor and linguist, arrived on a small plane from Florida. Urs Boegli, head of the team, said its findings would be shared with U.S. authorities, but that he wasn't sure whether they would be made public.
Prisoners with shaved heads and orange jumpsuits sat in open-air cells Thursday behind three fences and coils of razor wire. Occasionally, guards led them out, hands bound, for walks in the heavily fortified yard, using basic commands in Arabic for some of the prisoners.
"For the most part, they do what they're told," said Sgt. Lisa Juve, an Army guard who spoke to journalists who were allowed to see the detention camp from about 150 yards away.
Military officials say the camp will soon be able to hold 320 inmates, or more if they are housed two to a cell. Workers also are building a permanent prison to hold up to 2,000.
The United States is holding more than 300 prisoners in Afghanistan, at the Marine base at Kandahar airport, and a few others elsewhere.
Six Algerians detained in Bosnia and suspected of terrorist links will be taken to Guantanamo within days, a senior U.S. official in Europe told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
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