GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL STATION, Cuba — Al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners were allowed an exercise walk Saturday — with their hands bound and a U.S. soldier on each side — and given medical exams on their first full day under tight security at this remote U.S. military outpost, U.S. officials said.
The head of security at Camp X-Ray, the base’s detention area, said he was confident in the "layered" security measures, with backup guards in place for the 20 prisoners, considered some of the toughest of the fighters captured in Afghanistan.
"This was sort of our test run. It went extremely well," Army Col. Terry Carrico told reporters. "There’s going to be no breakout. I’m very confident."
The 20 are the first of hundreds of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners expected to be brought from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, on the eastern tip of Cuba. Here they will face intense interrogation, especially concerning the whereabouts of terror suspect Osama bin Laden. Officials have not said when the next group of prisoners will be brought in.
The prisoners’ identities have not been released. The British Foreign Office said it had been informed by the Americans that a British citizen was among the 20 prisoners. British officials were trying to determine who he was.
The U.S. military has clamped down with heavy security, saying the fighters have shown they are willing to kill themselves and their captors. In November, a prison mutiny in northern Afghanistan took three days to put down, left as many as 450 fighters dead and cost the life of a CIA agent.
The captives were being detained outside the view of reporters behind coils of barbed wire, guarded by heavily armed military police.
After their arrival Friday afternoon, the group’s first night in Cuba "was peaceful," Carrico said.
There was some conversation among the prisoners, and he said he saw several put their "mats down on the deck and pray" before going to sleep. "They were very fatigued."
They slept under the glare of halogen floodlights in individual outdoor cells made of chain-link fence — measures aimed at keeping them visible to their guards. It rained overnight, but the prisoners were sheltered by metal roofs, Carrico said.
On Saturday, the prisoners were given meals and showers, and allowed to walk around outside their cells. But during the exercise walk, each had his hands bound and a military police guard was stationed at each side, Carrico said.
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