Soldiers from domestic American military bases began arriving today at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to help build maximum-security jails for prisoners from Afghanistan.
The United States is holding more than 300 prisoners.
Jails being built to accommodate an initial group of about 100 prisoners could be finished within two weeks, said Capt. Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the United States Southern Command, which oversees Guantánamo. He said the detainees would be flown there from Afghanistan shortly after that.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld indicated last week that troops would be escorting the prisoners on the flights to Cuba.
Eventually, an anticipated 1,500 troops are to build facilities on Guantanamo to house up to 2,000 prisoners.
President Bush has asked the Pentagon, the Justice Department and his National Security Office write guidelines for how to sort out the detainees and determine which ones might be eligible for military tribunals and which ones might be tried in federal court. Officials said the Pentagon was close to completing the rules on how to conduct the tribunals. So far, however, none of the detainees have been charged with specific crimes.
Captain Crosson said the prisoners are classified at the moment as ''maximum-security detainees.''
Among them is John Walker, the 20-year-old Californian who joined Al Qaeda, who is being held with eight others on the aircraft carrier Bataan in the Arabian Sea. Administration officials said they expected the military to turn Mr. Walker over to federal custody for prosecution by the Justice Department, but it is not clear when or what he might be charged with.
Officials are continuing to examine installations within the United States as possible sites for the tribunals, although Mr. Rumsfeld said he had not ruled out holding such tribunals at Guantánamo Bay.
Aides to Senator Ernest F. Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, said the Pentagon alerted them that the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina was on standby status to hold prisoners who might be tried in a tribunal.
Andy Davis, staff director for Senator Hollings, said his office was told that no prisoners would be brought to Charleston directly from Afghanistan but that ''this facility could potentially house any suspects detained within the United States and tried in military tribunals as opposed to the federal courts.''
The Charleston brig, which can hold up to 280 inmates, is a medium-security prison.
The American soldiers being sent to Cuba will be helping to construct maximum-security detention centers for the suspected terrorists, Maj. James Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
The Pentagon is sending 1,500 troops, including military police units, engineers, medical personnel, and specialists in transportation and communications, to help design and build the detention centers, he said. The facilities are to be overseen by Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert of the Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Officials said the jails could cost $5 million to $10 million, though other estimates have been higher.
The Pentagon is also working on arranging trips for reporters to visit the Guantánamo base, but it is not clear if the news media will be allowed on the base once the prisoners arrive from Afghanistan.
''The detainees are not prisoners of war,'' one official said, ''but they are being afforded the protections of the Geneva Convention guidelines, so we have to abide by certain restrictions with regards to media access.'' The prisoners are expected to have access to the International Red Cross.
Most of the troops who began being deployed today were military police from Fort Hood in Texas. In the coming days, others will be sent from the Charleston Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, the Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico and the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia.