Pentagon Names Detainees Held at Guantanamo

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The Pentagon releases documents containing names and nationalities of hundreds of detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The posting on a Pentagon Web site came in response to a Freedom of Information request upheld by a federal judge.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

The Pentagon, under court order, has released documents that contain the names and nationalities of hundreds of detainees that are being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Most of the detainees were captured when the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in late 2001.

The Bush Administration had refused to provide any information about those prisoners. The Pentagon posted these documents on its website only in response to a Freedom of Information request that was upheld by a federal judge.

NPR's defense correspondent Vicky O'Hara joins us. Good morning, Vicky.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Good morning, Susan.

STAMBERG: Human rights groups have been demanding information about the detainees for four years now, I think. Do these documents give a full accounting of who is behind the bars there in Guantanamo?

O'HARA: No, not at all. The Pentagon says there are about 490 detainees currently held in Guantanamo. And these documents are transcripts of 317 hearings by military panels that reviewed detainee cases. Also, some detainees refused to take part in those hearings. So there is no information about those people.

What we do have in these documents is 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings, not a list of names and nationalities. To find names or country of origin, you have to read through all of those pages, and then occasionally, during the questions and answers, you will find the name mentioned or the country of origin.

And I should also mention that these documents actually were made available last year, but that was also in response to a Freedom of Information request. But at that time, the names and countries had been blacked out.

STAMBERG: Yeah, but you still have to do a whole lot of hunting and picking in order to find that information. This administration has been so secretive about this. What is there to learn from the documents once you've done the hunting and picking?

O'HARA: Well, there is a partial list of names. And if you read through the material, there is considerable detail about the circumstances in which people were captured, what they were doing, why they were doing it. And families who are missing relatives, you know, what one would think, could read through this material and perhaps ascertain whether their son, husband, daughter, actually is at Guantanamo.

But what I found really interesting about the documents is the stories of the people who were being held. You know, we've known nothing about these people. And the documents are just very interesting snapshots. For instance, there is the 16-year old boy from Afghanistan who claims he was captured by the Taliban and beaten, and he is accused of working with the Taliban.

There's the ethnic Uighur from China who says he was trying to learn how to fight the Chinese government.

STAMBERG: Vicky, what's the reason that the White House is so adamant about not releasing names and identities?

O'HARA: The Pentagon says that identifying detainees could put the prisoners or their families at risk, the rationale being that if they are identified and they cooperate with interrogators, al-Qaida might retaliate. Human rights groups, of course, say that not identifying the prisoners leads to abuse, and they also say that the families of these people have a right to know what is happened to their husbands, sons or perhaps daughters.

STAMBERG: Can we, briefly now, expect more documents anytime soon?

O'HARA: Journalist and human rights groups are certainly going to fight for it. They're not going to be satisfied with this. They will go back to court.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much. NPR's defense correspondent Vicky O'Hara.

O'HARA: Thank you.

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