U.S. Frees 7 Afghans From Guantanamo

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

Seven detainees were freed from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sent to their home country of Afghanistan this week, Defense Department officials announced yesterday, the latest step in Pentagon efforts to reduce the number of captives in the facility over coming months.

Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said four other detainees formerly held at Guantanamo Bay -- three Moroccans and one Ugandan -- recently were transferred to the custody of their home governments as part of an arrangement to shift the responsibility for holding enemy combatants from the United States to other nations.

The combined releases and transfers reduced the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to about 490, the first time the prison's population has dipped below 500 since June 2002, about six months after it opened. No detainees have been transferred into the facility since September 2004.

"During the course of the war on terrorism, the department expects that there will be other transfers or releases of detainees," said a Defense Department statement released yesterday.

The department also announced yesterday the completion of the first round of annual administrative review board decisions, which determine whether enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay should be released, transferred to another country's custody or detained indefinitely. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England approved decisions in 463 cases, ruling that 14 detainees should be released from custody, 120 should be transferred out of the facility and 329 should remain.

Nine other detainees held at Guantanamo have been cleared for release, and 10 have been ordered to stand trial before military commissions.

Government officials said yesterday that the number of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay should decline well below current levels as transfer negotiations continue. One official said the 329 detainees who are to remain there include many who could be transferred if an agreement is reached with their home countries. Concerns remain about the security infrastructure in certain countries, including Yemen, where important terrorist suspects recently escaped jail.

Human rights groups and lawyers for the detainees have criticized the review process, saying that many detainees are being held without charges on the basis of flimsy evidence. Defense Department officials said the decisions are based on the "best information and evidence available at the time," but they acknowledged that some of the circumstances surrounding a detainee's arrest can be "ambiguous," according to a statement.

The administrative review board "can recommend that people be held in Guantanamo on the basis of secret evidence and evidence obtained through torture, all while prohibiting detainees from being represented by lawyers," said Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, who represents Jumah Dossari, a Guantanamo Bay detainee who has been held for four years and has tried to kill himself numerous times. "It can hardly be said that this constitutes due process."

Colangelo-Bryan, who saw his client last month, said his visits have become far more restrictive since the U.S. government began trying to block detainees' access to federal courts. Dossari is no longer allowed to have paper or pens and is unable to write letters, he said.

"He is utterly despondent and hopeless," Colangelo-Bryan said, adding that the military has limited his contact with his client, alleging that the visits have coincided with Dossari's suicide attempts.

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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