Most of the alleged al Qaeda and Taliban inmates at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are likely to be freed or sent to their home countries for further investigation because many pose little threat and are not providing much valuable intelligence, the facility's deputy commander has said.
The remarks by Army Brig. Gen. Martin Lucenti in yesterday's edition of London's Financial Times appeared to conflict with past comments by U.S. military commanders who have stressed the value of the information obtained from the detainees and the danger many would pose if released.
"Of the 550 [detainees] that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries," Lucenti was quoted as saying in the British newspaper. "Most of these guys weren't fighting. They were running. Even if somebody has been found to be an enemy combatant, many of them will be released because they will be of low intelligence value and low threat status.
"We don't have a level of evidence to feel that we can be confident to prosecute them" all, he added, according to the newspaper. "We have guys here who have never told us anything, except to say that they want to cut off the heads of the infidels if they get a chance."
Asked for comment about the remarks, military officials referred inquiries to the joint task force that runs the Guantanamo Bay prison. Army Maj. Hank McIntire, a spokesman, said yesterday that officials there would have no immediate comment while they work on a statement about the matter.
Lucenti's superior, Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, disagreed with Lucenti's assessment, telling the Financial Times that some detainees "are of tremendous intelligence value" and still reveal significant information. McIntire confirmed Hood's remarks yesterday.
Hood's predecessor, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, has said frequently that most of the Guantanamo Bay detainees were providing useful intelligence.
"We're learning about the inter-connection of terrorism on a global scale," Miller told The Washington Post earlier this year. "Golden threads, I call them . . . I have found no innocent people in Camp Delta."
The U.S. military has stepped up the pace of releases from Guantanamo Bay in the last several months, particularly after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that said the government does not have the authority to deprive alleged members of al Qaeda or the Taliban of their freedom without giving them access to federal courts.
As of Sept. 22, the prison had released 146 detainees to freedom, and in 56 cases transferred them to the custody of their home governments, the Pentagon said. Some in the latter category were later freed.
Of the 202 men who have left Guantanamo Bay, only one was repatriated because a special board of U.S. military officers at the prison ruled that he was not an "enemy combatant." He was returned to Pakistan on Sept. 18.
After the Supreme Court decision, the military began to hold special reviews called Combatant Status Review Tribunals to determine whether the detainees ever were actually enemy combatants; 115 such cases have been heard so far.
Four other men have been brought before special military commissions for trial.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.