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03-03-06, 22:00
Update 11: Pentagon Releases Names of Gitmo Inmates
By MIRANDA LEITSINGER and BEN FOX , 03.03.2006, 08:23 PM

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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 Bay. The release resulted from a victory by The Associated Press in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The Bush administration had hidden the identities, home countries and other information about the men, who were accused of having links to the Taliban or al-Qaida. 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, but no complete list was given and it was unclear how many names the documents contained. In most of the transcripts, the person speaking is identified only as "detainee." Names appear only when court officials or detainees refer to people by name.

In some cases, even having the name did not 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.

In another unedited transcript, Zahir Shah, an Afghan accused of belonging to an Islamic militant group and of having a grenade launcher and other weapons in his house, admits having rifles. He says they were for protection and insists 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 says in the transcripts.

The documents also contain the names of former prisoners, like Moazzam Begg and Feroz Ali 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.

The men were mostly 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 Bay hearings were held to determine whether 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.

A U.S. military spokesman in Guantanamo Bay said the Pentagon was uneasy about handing over the transcripts.

"Personal information on detainees was withheld solely to protect detainee privacy and for their own security," Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler insisted. He said the Department of Defense remained concerned that the disclosure "could result in retribution or harm to the detainees or their families."

Buz Eisenberg, a lawyer for a detainee, said he hoped the released documents could help clear his client.

"We have been trying to litigate a case without ever knowing what the allegations were that the government claimed justified his continued detention," Eisenberg said. "Thanks to the AP's successful lawsuit, we're looking forward to receiving that evidence so that we can properly prepare our client's substantive case in court."

Eisenberg did not want to name his client because he had not asked the man for permission.

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.

******Abdul Gappher, an ethnic Uighur, said he traveled from China to Afghanistan, passing through Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, in June 2001 to "get some training to fight back against the Chinese government." But he denied attending an Uighur training camp. He was captured in Pakistan, and said Pakistani police officers "sold us to the U.S. government." ******

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.

The documents released Friday did not name all current and former Guantanamo Bay detainees. And for ones they did name, they did not make clear whether the detainees were still being held or had been released.

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 Bay. 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 Bay 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.

Some of the testimony seemed bound to embarass the military. Abbasi complained in August 2004 that on two occasions, U.S. military police officers had sex in front of him, others tried to feed him pork - a sin for Muslims - and some misled him into praying north - toward the United States - rather than toward Mecca as Muslims are required to do.

Once, the officers having sex "distracted him while he was praying," he said in written testimony in which he refers to himself at the third person. There was no way to confirm the allegations.

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 - 60 files on a CD-ROM - about 20 minutes after the deadline at the close of business Friday. 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 new version was provided over an hour later.