By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Pentagon officials are preparing to release the names of several hundred detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the first time the government will publicly link names to previously revealed information about many captives at the island prison.
The change came when the government decided this week not to appeal a federal judge's order to provide names that were redacted from documents released under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press. Although the government has previously released thousands of pages related to hearings on whether individual detainees are "enemy combatants," it has always withheld the names of the prisoners who participated in those hearings.
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff ordered the Defense Department to release the names by next Friday. Pentagon officials said yesterday that the decision not to appeal the ruling, made by the Justice Department, came over the strong objections of the Defense Department general counsel's office, which has been seeking to prevent the release of the names.
The names of hundreds of detainees have become public since the Supreme Court in June 2004 allowed them to file federal court cases contesting their imprisonment. Others have been identified in the media and by advocacy groups, some after they were released. Over the past several years, The Washington Post has independently confirmed the names of approximately 450 people who were detained at Guantanamo Bay for some part of the past four years.
But the Pentagon has refused to discuss individual detainees in its custody.
The document release could include information gleaned from International Committee of the Red Cross letters that detainees used to defend themselves in "combatant status review tribunals," meaning the names of detainees' family members could also be a part of the disclosure.
"The Department of Defense will comply with the judge's decision in this matter," Navy Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.
Defense officials made it clear yesterday that the release will not be a roster of the approximately 490 detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay. Instead it will contain names associated with about 390 hearing transcripts. Some detainees did not participate in the hearings.
Bill Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said yesterday that the ruling is a step in the right direction but will not quell concerns about the U.S. detention system. The center oversees federal cases filed on behalf of hundreds of the detainees in Cuba.
"The government has detained prisoners without due process; lied about who these people are; concealed their treatment from the public and denied basic information to the very people who are authorized to represent the detainees," Goodman said in a written statement. "This administration prefers to operate in the shadows, but Judge Rakoff's ruling helps shine a light that can make this process more open and democratic."
The Defense Department, however, has given the ICRC access to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, escorted news media representatives and members of Congress through the facility, and allowed international human rights officials to visit. But department officials have strictly limited contact with detainees.