St. George's, Grenada — Led by an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, the journalists silently filed in front of the Cuban prisoners, separated from them by coils of concertina wire.
The silence was enforced, ''no talking to the prisoners'' being the strict instructions given to reporters allowed to visit some 600 Cubans detained at Point Salines on Grenada.
The journalists stared into the faces of the prisoners standing in line for food and scrutinized the rows of sleeping men. Watching the scene, a French journalist muttered, ''I don't know who this is more humiliating for, them or us.''
As Grenada returns to normal, with Governor-General Paul Scoon setting up a new government, questions are being raised about the number of Cubans who fought in Grenada, the resistance they offered, and the Reagan administration's accounts of the level of resistence.
Most journalists who have seen the prisoners say, and US officials on the scene concur, that the age and physical condition of the detainees indicates they are (with the possible exception of 100 to 150 men) indeed only militia-trained construction workers. New US figures on the total Cuban presence on the island say there are fewer than 600 detainees, 25 killed, 40 in the Cuban Embassy, and a maximum of 50 left in the hills.
But one week ago, administration officials were telling the press it took several days longer than had been expected to quell large-scale organized resistance in Grenada, because most of the construction workers were actually soldiers and the total Cuban presence was much larger than had been estimated, with figures ranging from a total of 1,200 to 2,000 Cubans on the island.
This alleged increased size of the Cuban presence was played up by the administration, along with the arms caches discovered, as proof that Grenada was being turned into a Cuban base.
Now, with the new figures for the Cuban presence being circulated by the administration, the figure is back to the original estimate of 600 to 700 Cubans , most of whom had no more than militia training - although this does not, by any means, rule out the eventuality that if Bernard Coard had continued in power , Cuban and East-bloc military presence would have increased.
What the new, lower figures for Cubans in Grenada do is invalidate US administration explanations of why it took longer than originally envisaged to quell organized resistance on the island.
Also, the new numbers dim somewhat the hopes of hard-liners both in and out of the administration who wanted to see the Grenada intervention as a dress rehersal for a US-sponsored invasion of Nicaragua.
A congressional delegation led by Rep. Thomas Foley (D) visited Grenada this weekend. A question high on its agenda was whether the US intelligence community failed to provide the administration with proper assessments of the military situation in Grenada.
Ironically, these concerns about possible intelligence failures arose in the first days after the intervention, when the administration announced there were many more Cubans in Grenada than originally expected.
A high-ranking US government official stated that US intelligence sources had always correctly estimated the number of Cubans in Grenada at between 600 to 700 , but that these same sources had incorrectly estimated that the Cubans would not put up much of a fight.
In addition to faulty estimates of Cuban resistance, some have asked whether US-led intervention forces should have been able to deal more quickly with the resistance they did receive, especially in view of the relatively large size of US forces involved.
All observers in the area stressed that US troops were slowed down considerably by orders to kill as few civilians and damage as little property as possible. It is also true that the breaking down of organized resistance took only a few more days than expected, while the mopping up of guerrilla resistance in the hills has gone better than many had feared it would.
But some observers share the question of a US official who speculated, ''Maybe we have become so involved with high technology that we no longer know how to fight a conventional war.''
Another observer of the scene stated, ''The Americans have never been good at fighting in mountainous or hilly terrain. This has been true even back in the days of the Indian wars.'' He stated that even in the first three or four days of fighting around the capital and airport, most of the time the marines faced resistance by forces entrenched on higher ground.
Says one 82nd Airborne paratrooper: ''We had orders to hurt as few Grenadians as we could, and to spare property. We don't think, if you take everything into account, that it took so long. In fact, the mopping up went quicker than I thought it would. The Cubans thought that they were fighting for their lives, and they are more used to guerrilla warfare than we are. Their regime is based on guerrilla warfare. We could have sent in our guerrilla warfare experts, the Green Berets, but then we'd have been playing cat-and-mouse games with the Cubans for weeks.''
Any guerrilla fight depends on the certainty of supply lines and communications. ''And on this small island, the guerrillas just didn't have it, '' he said.