Pentagon Releases Gitmo Detainees' Names

By ANDREW SELSKY
The Associated Press
Monday, May 15, 2006; 11:06 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The Pentagon gave The Associated Press on Monday the first list of everyone who has been held at Guantanamo Bay, more than four years after it opened the detention center in Cuba. But none of the most notorious terrorist suspects were included, raising questions about where America's most dangerous prisoners are being held.

The handover marks the first time that everyone who has been held at Guantanamo Bay in the Bush administration's war on terror has been identified, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler. A total 201 of the names have never been disclosed by the Defense Department before.

"This list takes us one step closer to our goal of fully reporting who has been swept into U.S military custody in Guantanamo, and how they and their cases are being handled," said David Tomlin, the AP's assistant general counsel, adding that the Pentagon did not give all the information the AP sought in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the names of all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base were previously kept classified because of "the security operation as well as the intelligence operation that takes place down there."

In a briefing in Washington, he did not explain why the Pentagon did not contest the AP's request for the release of the names, as it did with previous Freedom of Information Act requests for prisoner information. Just last month, the Pentagon released 558 names of current and former detainees to AP.

The release will help lawyers and other advocates track who has been held at the base and find former detainees to help investigate allegations of abuse, said Priti Patel, an attorney for New York-based Human Rights First.

While the release of Guantanamo names is welcome, human rights groups also want to learn the identities of all those held in Iraq, Afghanistan and secret locations, Patel said.

"There's still much more in darkness," she said.

For example, the United States has not disclosed where it is holding Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Ramzi Binalshibh, who allegedly plotted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and other captured top al-Qaida figures. The list released Monday also does not specify what has happened to former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The fate of some is documented. All British nationals held at Guantanamo 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 U.S. detention centers, or in torture cells of prisons in other countries.

Jumana Musa, an official with Amnesty International's Washington office, said there have long been rumors that the CIA has a secret prison at Guantanamo Bay, an isolated base along the Caribbean which Cuba granted to Washington by treaty a century ago.

But Peppler, in an e-mail to the AP, emphatically ruled that out.

"Absolutely not," Peppler said. "There are no other detention facilities other than those under DoD control in Guantanamo Bay.

The AP sought the names, photos and other details of current and former Guantanamo Bay detainees through a Freedom of Information Act request on Jan. 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 Guantanamo 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 U.S. intelligence gathering. Releasing pictures would make it easier for al-Qaida to retaliate against detainees suspected of cooperating with interrogators, said Paul B. Rester, the director of the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo. That would make it harder for the U.S. 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 U.S. military says 759 detainees have been held at Guantanamo Bay since the detention center began taking prisoners in the U.S. war on terror in January 2002. About 275 have been released or transferred.

The U.S. has filed charges against 10 detainees.

The Pentagon says another 136 detainees at Guantanamo have been approved for release or transfer, but their departure in some cases has been delayed as Washington tries to persuade their home countries to accept them and receive assurances they won't be treated inhumanely.

In April, the Department of Defense released to the AP the names of 558 detainees who had a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which determines whether they are "enemy combatants" who should be held.

That list, however, did not include about 200 detainees who were released or transferred before the Combatant Status Review Tribunals began in July 2004. Those names were among those listed Monday.

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Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington and Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press