WASHINGTON (AP) The U.S. military yesterday began moving hooded and chained prisoners from the war in Afghanistan to a jail in Cuba.

Paul Wong
A U.S. helicopter flies over a guard tower at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba yesterday. The base is preparing to house detained al-Qaida fighters captured in Afghanistan. <br><br>AP PHOTO

Taliban and al-Qaida detainees were taken from prisons in and around Afghanistan to Kandahar airport in the south of the country for movement to Guantanamo, Cuba, officials said. Later, a group of some 20 from among more than 300 in U.S. custody were seen on CNN shuffling to an airplane at the airport.

The trans-Atlantic move presents an unprecedented security challenge.

Prisoners were to be chained to their seats and possibly be sedated, forced to use portable urinals and be fed by their guards during the flights from Afghanistan to newly constructed jail cells in Guantanamo, according to newspaper and television reports.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sidestepped comment on that directly, saying troops had been authorized to use “appropriate restraints” and noting other groups of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners had killed their guards in at least two instances in the war.

“They”re fully aware that these are dangerous individuals,” Rumsfeld said of American troops at a Pentagon press conference.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said detainees were being treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention rules on prisoners.

Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes struck again early yesterday Afghan time at the huge cave, tunnel and building complex used as an al-Qaida training camp in eastern Afghanistan.

American-led forces for several days have been detonating ordnance found there and hitting the compound itself, saying intelligence indicated it was recently occupied by al-Qaida fighters preparing to escape the country into Pakistan.

As for the prisoners, Clarke told a press briefing yesterday that she was trying to determine what details of the transfer would be released, saying officials would not be talking about schedules or other things that would breach security, but would simply announce when the detainees had reached Guantanamo.

But it was clear their transfer was imminent when prisoners were consolidated that is brought from other locations to Kandahar.

Eight were brought from the Navy”s USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea and a number from the U.S. detention centers in Bagram and Mazar-e-Sharif, military officials said.

“This thing is being done with the most expertise that we can bring to bear on it,” said spokesman Steve Lucas at the U.S. Southern Command, the Miami-based command that is helping coordinate the move.

“These suicidally murderous people have compatriots at large,” said Lucas. “We don”t want to provide them any information that could make a big terrorist splash.”

In two separate deadly incidents, prisoners got hold of weapons and staged an uprising while held in a fortress in northern Afghanistan, while others killed Pakistani guards after being apprehended trying to escape into that country.

American troops have held the prisoners in much greater security since taking custody of them.

“Nothing like this to my knowledge has been done before (considering) the level of threat and probably the size and distance too,” Lucas said of the imminent transfer. “I”m not sure that anyone has every handled detainees of this type.”

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