GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- The cream of al Qaeda and the Taliban's imprisoned crop is being interrogated in three windowless plywood huts in Camp X-Ray, each bare-walled room furnished with two chairs and a table and guards under order to block the interrogators from so much as touching the prisoners.
"No NYPD Blue stuff going on there," said Jason Ortiz, 23, an Army private from the Bronx who escorts the prisoners from their chain-link cells in the Camp X-Ray prison and into the interrogation huts 100 yards away.
A tip from a camp inmate helped prompt the strong FBI alert Monday for a possible terrorist attack against targets in the United States or U.S. installations in Yemen, FBI officials were quoted as saying.
Camp X-Ray officials declined comment Tuesday on the FBI claim, and the interrogators from the FBI, CIA and several military intelligence branches have refused to talk to the media since the camp opened Jan. 11.
U.S. intelligence officials in Washington stressed that their side of the war on terror is being waged not just in Camp X-Ray but all around the world, wherever the trail of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network leads.
But prison camp officials and guards interviewed recently indicated that a significant number of prisoners are cooperating with interrogators - though they stressed that it's not known if they are telling the truth.
"Not one prisoner clammed up, and some went on and on," said Sgt. Woody Malone, 38, an Army reservist from Sanford, N.C., who commands Ortiz's unit. He has stood guard inside the huts at dozens of interrogations, he said.
The prisoners at Camp X-Ray are certainly the cream of the crop, at least in the view of the U.S. intelligence agents who interviewed them in prisons in Afghanistan and selected them to be the first sent here.
Of the eight shipments of prisoners that arrived in this U.S. military base on Cuba's eastern tip since Jan. 11, "the first groups had the highest degree of intelligence value," said prison spokesman Marine Maj. Steve Cox.
Among the first prisoners to be transferred here was the former Taliban army chief of staff Mullah Fazel Mazloom, according to media reports from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
The second groups to arrive were made up of inmates who needed immediate medical attention, and the last two shipments on Saturday and Monday were "next in relative order of intelligence value," Cox added.
But just how truthful the prisoners have been with the interrogators remains unclear.
Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, overall commander of the prison operation, said interrogators are not even certain how many of the 288 prisoners now here are members of Afghanistan's former Taliban government and army, and how many belong to the far more dangerous al Qaeda network accused in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.
"There's a group that claims to be Taliban. There's a smaller group that claims to be al Qaeda," Lehnert said, adding that the largest group is made up of prisoners who refused to identify themselves.
Some inmates have given many different names, so guards here refer to them by the last three figures of the 12-digit-and-letter code numbers assigned to them by U.S. intelligence screeners in Afghanistan, said Camp X-Ray's commander, Army Col. Terry Carrico.
Malone and Ruiz both described the interrogation sessions with virtually the same words - "smooth," "professional" and "quiet," not counting the hum of the wall-mounted air conditioning unit.