Sunday, June 25, 2006

US sends home 14 Saudis from Guantanamo

US sends home 14 Saudis from Guantanamo
By Tim Ahmann

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fourteen Saudi Arabian nationals held at Guantanamo Bay were sent home on Saturday, two weeks after three suicides at the facility thrust U.S. handling of terrorism suspects back into the spotlight.

The Pentagon said in a statement the latest repatriation leaves about 450 prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. It said 120 of those foreign terrorism suspects had been determined eligible for "transfer or release."

"Departure of these remaining detainees approved for transfer or release is subject to ongoing discussions between the United States and other nations," the U.S. Defense Department said. "The department expects that there will continue to be other transfers or releases of detainees."

Many of the men held at Guantanamo were captured in Afghanistan in the U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban after the September 11 attacks. Many have been held for years and nearly all are being held without charge.

The Pentagon said the latest transfer brought the number of detainees who have been released from Guantanamo to approximately 310. An Afghan official said on June 14 that all 96 Afghans held at the base, including several senior Taliban officials, would soon return to Afghanistan.

International criticism of U.S. treatment of the prisoners grew this month after three men held there committed suicide.

They were the first prisoners to die at the base since the United States began holding terrorism suspects there in 2002. Dozens of inmates have attempted suicide and many have gone on hunger strikes.

Prison camp commander Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris called the suicides acts of "asymmetrical warfare" and said they were linked to a "mystical" belief at the camp that it would take the deaths of three detainees for the rest to go free.

President Bush has said he would like to shut the prison, but that it was important first to clarify how the inmates held there might be tried.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters on June 16 the United States did not want to be "the world's jailer," and said it would be helpful if governments agreed to allow more prisoners be transferred home.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the legitimacy of special military tribunals set up to try some of the prisoners for war crimes.

Washington has designated the Guantanamo prisoners as "enemy combatants," denying them the prisoner-of-war status that would guarantee certain rights under international law.

The Pentagon said one of the 14 Saudis returned home on Saturday was determined by a tribunal to no longer be an enemy combatant. It said the transfer of the other 13 was approved by an administrative review board.