Delegates from the International Red Cross have met with alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 13 other "high-value" detainees who had been held by the CIA in secret prisons until their transfer to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, last month, a spokesman said Thursday.
The Red Cross would not discuss the condition of the detainees or their treatment while held by the CIA.
The Red Cross "does not comment publicly on current or past circumstances of detention or treatment of detainee, " said Simon Schorno, a spokesman in Washington.
"We're confirming having visited and registered the 14 detainees, and provided them with the means to exchange Red Cross messages with their families, " he added.
The meetings were believed to be the first by outsiders with the men who had spent up to four years at undisclosed CIA "black sites, " and the first opportunity for these particular captives to write to their families.
The 12-member Red Cross delegation, which said it interviewed 454 U.S.-held foreign captives during the visit, was staying on the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba through the weekend.
At Guantánamo, Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, the detention operations spokesman, called the Red Cross consultations "meaningful, useful and confidential, " but he declined to say whether the Red Cross had registered any complaints with the detention center commander. Durand said the detainees are receiving the same healthcare as U.S. forces on overseas duty.
"As with all other detainees, they receive adequate food, shelter and clothing. They are afforded the opportunity to worship and have access to the Koran in their native language and other prayer accessories, " he added.
President Bush disclosed on Sept. 6 that the United States had over Labor Day weekend moved the captives from secret offshore CIA interrogation locations to Guantánamo, where the Pentagon has held war-on-terror captives since January 2002.
U.S. military officials confirmed the Red Cross meetings Thursday as the Pentagon announced that it had released 17 long-held captives at Guantánamo. Sixteen were returned to Afghanistan, one to Morocco. They were not identified.
But the Associated Press in Kabul identified one of the 17 as Mohammed Ali Shah, a former member of the loya jirga, or council, established by the United States in 2002 as an interim government after the invasion that toppled the ruling Taliban.
"For four years they put me in jail in Cuba for nothing," said Shah, a doctor from the eastern province of Paktia whose hands shook from nervousness when he spoke.
Of U.S-held captives in Cuba, he said: "They are innocent. All were arrested because of false reports, and the Americans, without investigating, they arrested innocent people and put them in jail for a long time."
Red Cross delegates arrived at Guantánamo in late September, but senior military leaders said the men would not be immediately made available for interviews because they were undergoing some form of orientation. Earlier captives saw Red Cross officials on the day of their arrival, during in-processing.
The captives included Mohammed, whom Bush referred to by his CIA nickname, "KSM, " as well as two other alleged al Qaeda leaders, Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaydah.
The United States claims the 14 men - the first arrivals at Guantánamo since September 2004 - include architects of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole on Yemen's coast and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
The 14 presumably will face internal U.S. military reviews to see if they meet Bush administration definitions of "enemy combatants, " and potentially future trial by U.S. military tribunal.
Still unclear is when they might appear before Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which had been open to news media coverage in the past. Senior Defense and Justice Department officials had earlier said reviews would be held within three months of their arrival, which would be by late December.
Given the Red Cross figure of 454 detainees interviewed, minus the 17 unnamed captives the Pentagon said it released, the captive population there was 437 on Thursday.