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U.S. Struggles to Downsize Guantanamo

Because of the diplomatic challenges in transferring detainees, some men have been cleared to leave Guantanamo for more than a year but remain in limbo.

"The U.S. has created a mess and it's very hard to get out of this mess," said Jennifer Daskal, a Washington-based lawyer for Human Rights Watch, which believes there are at least 50 detainees who have expressed fears of being sent back to their home countries.

Once the Defense Department clears a detainee for release, it is up to the State Department to negotiate his transfer and obtain the assurances he will not be mistreated.

The U.S. has not been able to get sufficient assurances from China in the cases of ethnic Uighurs _ members of a Muslim minority who want an independent homeland _ and ended up sending five of them to Albania. There are 17 left at Guantanamo.

Barbara Olshansky, a Stanford University law professor who has represented Guantanamo detainees, said she believes more Western European countries and others with good human rights records would take detainees, but balk at the U.S. demand for guarantees that they be prevented from carrying out attacks on America and its allies.

"Who the United States is approaching and what they are asking is making it difficult to find places," Olshansky said.

Gordon said the U.S. has worked hard to find third countries, noting that 90 countries were approached to accept Uighurs.

Since 2002, about 420 Guantanamo detainees have been sent to more than two dozen countries. Most were subsequently released, Joseph Benkert, a senior Defense Department official, said in a June affidavit filed in a federal court in Washington.

U.S. officials have alleged that more than a dozen have resumed fighting against the U.S. and human rights groups have cited several cases in which detainees have been abused. The State Department says it investigates such reports.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups do not trust the assurances that the State Department gets from countries that have a history of torture. They have called on the government to give detainees advance notice when they will be transferred and allow judges to review the cases of those who fear returning home.

In a June affidavit, Clint Williamson, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, opposed such a judicial review, saying it would "add delays to what is already a lengthy process."

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© 2007 The Associated Press