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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pentagon releases Guantanamo detainee list

The US Defence Department has complied with a court order and released the names and nationalities of about 300 of the 500 detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

For four years the Bush Administration has hidden the names, home countries and other details about the detainees, even though some like Australian David Hicks were known.

US District Judge Jed Rakoff last month ordered the Defence Department to release transcripts of detainee hearings as part of a lawsuit filed by the Associated Press.

A disk containing the documents was turned over to a reporter from the Associated Press, which filed a Freedom of Information Act suit to force the disclosure of names.

Pentagon officials said the documents would also be posted on a Defence Department website to comply with a court order that they be made public by March 3.

A spokesman for the Pentagon says because the lawsuit did not seek data on detainees who refused to take part in the military hearings, their names and nationalities will not be released.

Hicks, originally from Adelaide, has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

The 30-year-old convert to Islam was captured in Afghanistan, where he allegedly fought alongside the ruling Taliban against US-led forces who invaded after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

He faces charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent and aiding the enemy.

Incomplete list

While incomplete, the new list was expected to be the most thorough made public to date, starting with the arrival from Afghanistan of the first group of 20 shackled and masked detainees on January 11, 2002.

The Pentagon released more than 5,000 pages of documents relating to hearings conducted at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by military panels reviewing the cases of detainees.

Only 10 of the detainees, including Hicks, at the remote military prison have been formally charged with a crime, and human rights activists have condemned the indefinite detentions and the prisoners' lack of legal rights.

United Nations rights investigators have urged Washington to close the prison camp.

A senior Pentagon spokesman said the documents contain the names and nationalities of about 317 detainees.

He says there are 490 detainees.

"There is a concern that there could be potential harm to the detainees if personal information such as their name was a matter of public record," Mr Whitman said.

He said in some cases detainees have made incriminating statements about third parties in their home countries, or about other detainees, or made statements that could be considered disloyal by enemy forces.

"The documents will not provide a full list of names of detainees who are currently held at Gitmo, although it will provide over 5,000 pages of unredacted (uncensored) transcripts containing detainee personal information," Mr Whitman said.

The documents were previously released in June 2005 but with the names and nationalities of the detainees blacked out.

Mr Whitman said the original request was for the release of unredacted transcripts of the hearings in which detainees appeared before Combatant Status Review Tribunal and Administrative Review Boards at Guantanamo.

Rights lawyers say the Pentagon deserved little credit.

"If Judge Rakoff had not ordered the release of these names, the department would never have released them," Bill Goodman said, legal director for the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents numerous detainees.

"That just adds to the levels of secrecy that surround the detentions at Guantanamo, the lack of transparency and the overall absence of anything that would resemble what Americans have gotten used to describing as justice or due process."

Torture allegations

Former detainees, lawyers representing inmates and UN human rights investigators have accused the United States of using torture at Guantanamo, and US Government documents have shown FBI agents came to the same conclusion.

The Pentagon says the detainees are treated humanely and not tortured.

The United States classifies the men as enemy combatants and not prisoners of war, thus denying them rights afforded POWs under the Geneva Conventions.

The United States opened the Guantanamo prison three months after invading Afghanistan to topple its Taliban rulers who had harboured Al Qaeda.

Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan, and they are believed to be uniformly Muslim.

Mr Whitman says the detainees were not held in complete secrecy, saying they can receive and send mail and are visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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