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Taliban or al-Qaeda, US struggles to identify captives in Cuba
( 2002-02-10 10:57 ) (7 )

The United States, which this week said it would apply the Geneva Convention to captured Taliban fighters but not to members of al Qaeda, is struggling to differentiate between the prisoners held in Cuba, according to a senior Army officer.

Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert said on Saturday the US Army had been unable to determine to which of the two groups many of the prisoners at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay belonged.

Another 34 prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay at about 2:30 pm EST (1930 GMT) on Saturday aboard a military transport plane, bringing to 220 the total number of Afghan war captives at the Cuba base. The US holds 237 in Afghanistan.

Saturday's flight was the second batch of prisoners transferred from Afghanistan since flights resumed on Wednesday after a hiatus of more than two weeks while more outdoor cells were built to hold them at the controversial prison camp.

But Lehnert, in charge of the task force running the Guantanamo Bay prison, indicated the interrogation process was painfully slow and that many of the prisoners were being uncooperative and giving false information.

"A large number claim to be Taliban, a smaller number we have been able to confirm as al Qaeda, and a rather large number in the middle we have not been able to determine their status," Lehnert said at a media briefing.

"Many of the detainees are not forthcoming. Many have been interviewed as many as four times, each time providing a different name and different information," he added.


He said some of those claiming to be members of the Taliban, the former hard-line Islamic rulers of Afghanistan ousted by the US-led military campaign, may be lying to "secure favorable treatment."

He said prisoners identified as fighters belonging to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, blamed by the Bush administration for the Sept. 11 attacks on America, were generally confirmed through other sources and not through their own admission.

President George W. Bush decided on Thursday Taliban fighters captured during the war in Afghanistan would be covered by the Geneva Convention, but denied them prisoner of war status, which would have given them specific rights including automatic release at the end of the conflict.

Some human rights groups have criticized Washington for deciding not to give the detainees POW status and for not applying the Geneva Convention to al Qaeda fighters.

Bush's decision on the prisoners followed pleas even from ally governments to clarify their status. But international law experts say denying the Taliban POW status effectively means there is no distinction in how the groups should be treated.

The move could blunt criticism from abroad and encourage any captors of US soldiers to apply the Geneva Convention.

None of the detainees has yet been charged with a crime, but Washington has maintained the prisoners are being treated humanely as it seeks information from then that could prevent future attacks on the United States.

Lehnert said the prisoners were likely to be segregated once a new, permanent prison was built at the base.



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