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Pentagon releases names of Gitmo inmates
Updated: 2006-03-04 08:43

After four years of secrecy, the Pentagon handed over documents Friday that contain the names of detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo. The release resulted from a victory by The Associated Press in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

A detainee is escorted to interrogation by U.S. military guards at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, in this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2002 file photo. After four years of secrecy, the Pentagon released documents Friday, March 3, 2006 that contain the names of hundreds of detainees held at a U.S. military prison. The released resulted from a victory by The Associated Press in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. [AP]

The Bush administration had hidden the identities, home countries and other information about the men, who were accused of taking up arms against the United States. But a federal judge rejected administration arguments that releasing the identities would violate the detainees' privacy and could endanger them and their families.

The names were scattered throughout more than 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at Guantanamo Bay. The names were given only in the testimony when court officials referred to them by name in their remarks or when one detainee spoke of another detainee by name. The documents themselves released by the Pentagon did not identify each detainee who testified.

In some cases, even having the name didn't clarify the identity. In one document, the tribunal president asks a detainee if his name is Jumma Jan. The detainee responds that no, his name instead is Zain Ul Abedin.

Zahir Shah, an Afghan accused of being a member of an Islamic militant group and of having a grenade launcher and other weapons in his house, admitted to having rifles. He said it was for protection and insisted to the tribunal he did not fight U.S. troops.

"The only thing I did in Afghanistan was farming. Other than that, I did not do anything else in the country," Shah said, according to the transcripts.

The documents also contain the names of former prisoners, like Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, both British citizens. A handwritten note shows Abbasi pleading for prisoner-of-war status.

The status of other named detainees, such as Naibullah Darwaish, was not immediately clear. Darwaish was described as having been the chief of police for the Shinkai district in Zabol Province, Afghanistan, when he was captured.

Most of the men were captured during the 2001 U.S.-led war that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and sent Osama bin Laden deeper into hiding.

Most of the Guantanamo hearings were held to determine if the detainees were enemy combatants. That classification, Bush administration lawyers say, deprives the detainees of Geneva Convention prisoner-of-war protections and allows them to be held indefinitely without charges.

Documents released last year also because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the AP had the detainees' names and nationalities blacked out.

"Some folks don't want the names to be released for security and privacy reasons. Other folks think it should be open to the world to see," Army Maj. Jeffrey Weir, a Guantanamo spokesman, said Friday outside the kitchen where prisoners' food is prepared.

The documents, transcripts from at least 317 hearings at Guantanamo Bay, should shed light on the scope of an insurgency still battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in part by detailing how Muslims from many countries wound up fighting alongside the Taliban there.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York ruled in favor of the AP last week, a major development in a protracted legal battle.

Some current and former Guantanamo detainees remained unidentified, even after the release of the documents Friday. An unknown number of the named prisoners have been freed or transferred to custody elsewhere.

The AP has also filed suit seeking a list of all detainees who are being held or have been held at the prison in eastern Cuba.

"This is extremely important information," said Curt Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA. "We've been asking ever since the camp opened for a list of everyone there as one of the most basic first steps for any detaining authority."

Human rights monitors say keeping identities of prisoners secret can lead to abuses and deprive their families of information about their fate.

The United States, which opened the prison on its Navy base in eastern Cuba in January 2002, now holds about 490 prisoners at Guantanamo. Only 10 have been charged with crimes.

Neal Sonnett, chairman of the American Bar Association's task force on enemy combatants, said he hopes the documents will help focus attention on the conditions for the detainees and the way the hearings were handled.

The documents that were released on Friday were unedited transcripts of the hearings.

"Perhaps even more important than just the identities of the detainees are the unedited transcripts of the hearings, which I think will reveal a lot about the way in which the detainees have been treated and the way in which their status has been determined," Sonnett said. He was at Guantanamo to observe pretrial hearings for two detainees charged with crimes.

The Pentagon's secrecy has drawn criticism from human rights groups and lawyers.

"You can't just draw a veil of secrecy when you are locking people up," said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch. "You have to do at least the minimum, which is to acknowledge who you are holding."

The Defense Department had argued that releasing the identities of detainees could subject their families, friends and associates to embarrassment and retaliation.

But Rakoff said the relatives and others "never had any reasonable expectation" of anonymity. Friday was the deadline he set for release of the material.

Last year, the judge ordered the government to ask each detainee whether he or she wanted personal identifying information to be turned over to the AP as part of the lawsuit.

Of 317 detainees who received the form, 63 said yes, 17 said no, 35 returned the form without answering and 202 declined to return the form.

The judge said none of the detainees, not even the 17 who said they did not want their identities exposed, had a reasonable expectation of privacy during the tribunals.

A Pentagon lawyer delivered the documents Friday about 20 minutes after a 5 p.m. deadline. They were stored as 60 .pdf files on a CD-ROM. But within minutes, an officer returned and took back the CD-ROM, which contained letters from relatives of some of the prisoners that were not intended for release. A second CD-ROM was later delivered.

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