WASHINGTON—The Pentagon on Wednesday halted the shipment of Al-Qaida and Taliban detainees from Afghanistan to the U.S. naval base in Cuba until more facilities can be built there to hold them.
Capt. Thomas Crosson, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, characterized the action as "a brief pause" and said he expected the flights to the base at Guantanamo Bay to resume soon.
Germany's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it called in the U.S. ambassador to discuss the treatment of the detainees.
Meanwhile, John Walker, the 20-year-old American Taliban fighter, is set to go before the U.S. District Court in Northern Virginia today as the first step in his prosecution on charges of conspiring with Osama bin Laden's terrorists to kill Americans.
Walker was flown from Afghanistan in a military jet Wednesday under tight security and secrecy. He landed at Dulles International Airport and was taken to a detention center in Alexandria, Va., though a Justice Department spokesman said no information about Walker's whereabouts would be released for security reasons.
At Guantanamo Bay, officials said questioning of the detainees has begun.
"It's an interview process, an information-gathering process, not a forceful process," Navy Capt. Robert Buehn, commander of the base, told reporters.
Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who heads the task force holding the prisoners, said that once questioned, prisoners were separated from the other detainees being kept at Camp X-Ray. Lehnert said prisoners did not have lawyers present during the questioning. "Our view is legal counsel is not appropriate at this point," he said.
The camp holds suspected terrorists from 10 countries, including Britain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Australia.
Camp conditions criticized
Officials from other governments began to complain about the prisoners' treatment after newspapers published photographs of the detainees wearing blacked-out goggles, earmuffs and surgical masks.
In London, lawmakers and a delegation of British Muslims met with U.S. Embassy officials about treatment and conditions.
In a White House meeting Wednesday with congressional leaders, President Bush defended the arrangements at Guantanamo as necessary for the protection of U.S. military personnel there.
"You should be proud," Bush said. "We're continuing to protect our people."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who attended the meeting, also defended the arrangements.
"These aren't military people," he said of the detainees. "They don't belong to a country. They don't wear a uniform. They're not part of an army. It's a unique situation and we'll have to deal with it in a unique way."
Lawmakers plan inspection
But some legislators plan a one-day visit Friday to see for themselves, according to aides of Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, both Republicans who are part of the delegation.