Archive for Saturday, March 4, 2006

U.S. releases Guantanamo papers

March 4, 2006

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— After four years of secrecy, the Pentagon handed over documents Friday that contain the names of detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The release resulted from a victory by The Associated Press in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The Bush administration had hidden the identities, home countries and other information about the men, who were accused of having links to the Taliban or al-Qaida. But a federal judge rejected administration arguments that releasing the identities would violate the detainees' privacy and could endanger them and their families.

The names were scattered throughout more than 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at Guantanamo Bay released Friday, but no complete list was given and it was unclear how many names the documents contained. In most of the transcripts, the person speaking is identified only as "detainee." Names appear only when court officials or detainees refer to people by name.

In some cases, even having the name did not clarify the identity. In one document, the tribunal president asks a detainee if his name is Jumma Jan. The detainee responds that no, his name instead is Zain Ul Abedin.

The men were mostly captured during the 2001 U.S.-led war that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and sent Osama bin Laden deeper into hiding, and the newly released documents shed light on some of the detainees' explanations.

In one unedited transcript, Zahir Shah, an Afghan accused of belonging to an Islamic militant group and of having a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and other weapons in his house, admits having rifles. He says they were for protection - he had a running feud with a cousin - and insists he did not fight U.S. troops.

The only time he shot anything, he says, was when he hunted with a BB gun.

"What are we going to do with RPGs?" he asks, adding: "The only thing I did in Afghanistan was farming. : We grew wheat, corn, vegetables and watermelons."

In another document, a detainee identified as Abdul Hakim Bukhary denies he is member of al-Qaida but acknowledges he traveled from his native Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces, and says he met Osama bin Laden about 15 years ago while fighting Russian forces in Afghanistan. He praises his captors for running a good prison.

"Prisoners here are in paradise," he says. "American people are very good. Really. They give us three meals. Fruit juice and everything!" Still, he says, he wants to return to his family.

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