Pentagon hands over list of Guantánamo detainees

After years of secrecy, the Pentagon has disclosed the names, ages and home countries of everyone held at the isolated Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in south-eastern Cuba as a suspect in the United States-led war on terror.

The US says it has held 759 males, ranging from teenagers to older than 70, from more than 40 countries, according to the list released late on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press.

The list includes some 200 previously undisclosed names. They are of former Guantánamo detainees who were moved out before the military began hearings in the summer of 2004 to determine whether detainees were properly classified as “enemy combatants” who should be held at the base.

While the list includes the 10 detainees who have been charged with crimes, it doesn’t include the most notorious US prisoners, like alleged September 11 plotters Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh—whose whereabouts are secret.

“There’s still much more in darkness,” said Priti Patel, a lawyer with New York-based Human Rights First who has monitored legal proceedings at Guantánamo.

Lawyers and other advocates will be able to use the new list to track who has been held at the base and find former detainees to help investigate allegations of abuse, Patel said.

The Pentagon released the list while denying AP access to other information about the detainees, who were mostly held on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

The handover marks the first time that everyone who has been held by the Defence Department at Guantánamo Bay has been identified, said navy Lieutenant Commander Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesperson.

Last month, the military released the names of 558 detainees, also in response to an AP lawsuit.

The names of all detainees held at Guantánamo Bay were previously kept classified because of “the security operation as well as the intelligence operation that takes place down there”, said Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman.

The new list, when compared to the one from April, shows the Pentagon released many Afghans who were swept up early in the war.

More than 90 were transferred out of Guantánamo between January 2002 and the summer of 2004.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, believes US officials are trying to deflect international criticism of Guantánamo Bay by gradually moving out detainees.

“They are trying to slowly let the air out of the tires as a way to make the problem go away,” Romero said.

The list released on Monday also does not specify what has happened to former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

The fate of some is documented. All British nationals held at Guantánamo Bay, for example, were transferred back to Britain.
But what has become of dozens of other detainees was not known.

Some could be free. Others could be in secret US detention centres, or in torture cells of prisons in other countries.

The AP sought the names, photos and other details of current and former Guantánamo Bay detainees through a Freedom of Information Act request on January 18. After the Pentagon didn’t respond, the AP filed a lawsuit in March seeking compliance.

The Pentagon later agreed to turn over much of the information. Motions are pending in court for additional information, including the height and weight of the roughly 480 detainees still at Guantánamo Bay to assist with news coverage of a hunger strike.

The Pentagon refused to release that information, arguing that medical records are private. The military said the hunger strike began in August and has involved a maximum of 131 detainees.

The Pentagon also argued that releasing photos of current detainees would damage US intelligence gathering. Releasing pictures would make it easier for al-Qaeda to retaliate against detainees suspected of cooperating with interrogators, said Paul Rester, the director of the joint intelligence group at Guantánamo.

That would make it harder for the US to collect intelligence, Rester said in a May 10 affidavit filed in response to the AP’s Freedom of Information Act suit.

“No human intelligence sources interested in cooperating with the United States officials under any hope of anonymity will be willing to do so if their photographs and names are publicly released,” he said.

The US military says about 480 detainees are now at Guantánamo Bay.

About 275 have been released or transferred. - Sapa-AP

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