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In reversal, US opts to release Guantanamo files

Will Dunham / Reuters | April 4 2006

After four years of resisting disclosure of information on Guantanamo detainees, the Pentagon changed course on Monday and voluntarily released about 2,600 pages of documents relating to numerous prisoners.

The Pentagon generally has refused to release documents identifying the foreign terrorism suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, citing security concerns such as keeping groups like al Qaeda in the dark about who is being imprisoned.

"It is an attempt to be transparent," Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, said of the document release.

The Pentagon disclosed transcripts of military hearings from the second half of 2005 reviewing detainees' detention, and submissions made by their lawyers. This comes a month after it released 5,000 pages of documents under a judge's order in a freedom of information suit brought by a news organization.

Whitman told reporters they raised "interesting points, valid points" when asking if the Pentagon, by releasing the latest documents, was giving up its own previous national security concerns.

But he said that in light of losing its fight to withhold the other documents in the case filed by the Associated Press, the Pentagon "has determined that it's prudent to go ahead and release" documents not covered by the judge's previous order.

Whitman said there are 490 detainees at the Guantanamo prison, which opened in January 2002. Rights activists condemn indefinite detentions at Guantanamo and prisoners' lack of legal rights. Only 10 have been charged with a crime.

"There are still vast numbers of documents that are concealed and hidden and declared to be secret and confidential," said Bill Goodman, legal director for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents numerous detainees.

Transcripts of some hearings released on Monday did not state the name of the detainees involved, although the names and nationalities of many detainees were contained in other documents and those released last month.

A Yemeni detainee said in a transcript, "I have nothing to tell, I am a normal person who works in agriculture. I have never killed anybody." He said he grew potatoes, tomatoes, onions and raisins.

Whitman said Guantanamo detainees "are terrorist trainers, they're bomb-makers, they're people that worked directly for Osama bin Laden, they're would-be suicide bombers. And we know that they're trained to lie to try to gain sympathy for their condition and to bring pressure upon the U.S. government."

Lawyers for Algerian Saber Lahmar, seized in Bosnia in 2002 before ending up at Guantanamo, wrote, "Unlike many other detainees who have been deemed 'enemy combatants,' Mr. Lahmar was not apprehended on the battlefield, and in fact there is no evidentiary support whatsoever to suggest that he has ever taken up arms against the United States or its allies."

The lawyers told the military panel considering his case that "justice and human decency require his release forthwith," noting he has a young daughter who he has never seen because she was born after he was seized.

Another transcript showed military officers questioning a detainee named Sabri Mohammed Ebrahim about possessing a brand of wristwatch that they said was linked to al Qaeda bombings.

"All I know about the watch is that it is a Casio ... I know it has a compass. When we pray we have to face Mecca," he said.

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