Saturday, March 04, 2006

U.S. Reveals Identities of Detainees

The New York Times
U.S. Reveals Identities of Detainees

GUANTÁNAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba, March 3 (AP) — After four years of secrecy, the Pentagon released documents on Friday that have the names of detainees at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

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 Qaeda. But a federal judge rejected administration arguments that releasing the names would violate the detainees' privacy and could endanger them and their families. The release resulted from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.

The names were scattered throughout more than 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at Guantánamo Bay, but no complete list was given, and it was not immediately clear 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 a name does 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 is Zain Ul Abedin.

The story of Zahir Shah is one of hundreds in the transcripts.

The Pentagon says Mr. Shah had a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in his house, but Mr. Shah says that he had only a rifle — for protection against a cousin in a family feud — and that the only time he shot anything was when he hunted with a BB gun.

"What are we going to do with R.P.G.'s?" he asks, adding: "The only thing I did in Afghanistan was farming. We grew wheat, corn, vegetables and watermelons." The documents also have the names of former prisoners, including Moazzam Begg and Feroz Ali Abbasi, both British citizens. A handwritten note shows Mr. Abbasi pleading for prisoner-of-war status.

The status of other named detainees, like Naibullah Darwaish, was not immediately clear. Mr. Darwaish was described as having been the chief of police for the Shinkai district in Zabol Province, Afghanistan, when he was captured.

The men were mostly captured in the 2001 American-led war that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and sent Osama bin Laden deeper into hiding.

Most of the Guantánamo Bay hearings were held to determine if the detainees were "enemy combatants." That classification, Bush administration lawyers say, deprives the detainees of Geneva Convention prisoner-of-war protections and allows them to be held indefinitely without charges.

Documents released last year, also because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The A.P., had the detainees' names and nationalities blacked out.

Buz Eisenberg, a lawyer for a detainee, said he hoped the released documents could help clear his client.

"We have been trying to litigate a case without ever knowing what the allegations were that the government claimed justified his continued detention," Mr. Eisenberg said. "Thanks to The A.P.'s successful lawsuit, we're looking forward to receiving that evidence so that we can properly prepare our client's substantive case in court."

Mr. Eisenberg did not want to name his client because he had not asked the man for permission.

Neal Sonnett, chairman of the American Bar Association's task force on enemy combatants, said he hoped the documents would help focus attention on the conditions for the detainees and the way the hearings were handled.

"Perhaps even more important than just the identities of the detainees," Mr. Sonnett said, "are the unedited transcripts of the hearings, which I think will reveal a lot about the way in which the detainees have been treated and the way in which their status has been determined."

Mr. Sonnett was at Guantánamo Bay to observe pretrial hearings for two detainees charged with crimes.

Last year, the judge ordered the government to ask each detainee whether he or she wanted personal identifying information to be turned over to The A.P. as part of the lawsuit.

Of 317 detainees who received the form, 63 said yes, 17 said no, 35 returned the form without answering and 202 declined to return the form.

The judge said none of the detainees, not even the 17 who said they did not want their identities exposed, had a reasonable expectation of privacy during the tribunals.