US offers to review treatment of Cuba suspects

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The Independent US

The American military said yesterday it was reviewing whether it still needed to blindfold the Taliban and al-Qa'ida prisoners being brought to Guantanamo Bay.

It also admitted that concern about overcrowding was one of the reasons for the temporary suspension of flights of prisoners from Afghanistan.

Brigadier-General Michael Lehnert, commander of the task force that set up Camp X-ray, said he was working with inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on recommendations they had made. "I'm always going to be putting security first ­ obviously if we can accommodate the humanitarian issues, we will do," he said.

The admission that procedures are being reviewed is the first sign that the Pentagon ­ until now bullish on its treatment of the prisoners ­ is listening to the growing international concerns. Those concerns reached new levels last weekend when official pictures revealed the prisoners shackled and bound and wearing blacked-out goggles.

General Lehnert said he had not decided whether future prisoners would wear goggles but added: "Every way that we handle the detainees is always subject to review."

Also yesterday, Glyn Davies, the deputy head of mission at the US embassy in London, warned MPs that the three British al-Qa'ida suspects held in Cuba could face the death penalty.

President George Bush said he planned to propose a $48bn (£34bn) rise in the Pentagon's 2003 budget to help it fight the war against terrorists ­ the biggest increase in America's military spending in 20 years.