We'll hold PoWs in Cuba, says Rumsfeld

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The Independent US

Key Taliban and al-Qa'ida prisoners are to be sent to the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where they will be held to await trial, officials said yesterday.

The decision to ship the men halfway across the world was the "least worst" option available, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, told a Pentagon briefing.

The base would be used as a detention centre only, he said. No decisions have been made about venues for military tribunals or other forms of trial.

"[Guantanamo Bay's] disadvantages ... seem to be modest relative to the alternatives," Mr Rumsfeld said, without elaborating on other options.

Chief among the disadvantages is the unfriendly Cuban government next door.

The Cuban leader, President Fidel Castro, has criticised the US campaign in Afghanistan and described Guantanamo Bay, a facility run exclusively by the American military, as "a dagger pointed at Cuba's heart".

But Mr Rumsfeld played down these problems. "We don't expect any trouble with Mr Castro," he said.

The United States is holding 37 Afghan and foreign fighters taken prisoner during recent fighting.

Some are at a marine base at Kandahar airport, others including an Australian and a US national, are being held on board the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea.

Twenty arrived in Kandahar on Wednesday night on board a US transport plane. Pentagon officials said they had been detained by Pakistan, and many are believed to be Yemenis.

In addition, almost 7,000 Taliban and al-Qa'ida prisoners are being held by anti-Taliban forces inside Afghanistan.

It is not clear how many may end up in US hands.