The Pentagon's release of documents detailing the hearings of Guantanamo detainees has cracked open a window into the government's top-secret world. The 5,000 pages offer unedited transcripts that include names and stories from some of the prisoners at the base. The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The Pentagon's release of transcripts of enemy combatant hearings at Guantanamo, cracks open a window into the secretive process. The 5,000 pages offer unedited transcripts that include names or stories from some of the nearly 500 prisoners at the base. The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act requested by the Associated Press.
NPR's National Security Correspondent Jackie Northam is in Guantanamo and joins us now.
JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:
MONTAGNE: Well, you know, one of the most intriguing aspects of this document is the voices of the detainees that emerge. You know, one saying that he was just a chicken farmer and another effectively saying he proudly was a combatant. You've covered about a half a dozen of these hearings, what have we learned from these documents? What's new?
NORTHAM: Well, really what it gives us, Renee, is a much broader sense of who has been held here for over three years now. As you say, you have the chicken farmer out here. You have people that say that they were handed in--they were rounded up in Afghanistan during the start of the war--and they were handed over by our allies at the start of the war--the Northern Alliance--for Bounties.
You have people that say, yes, we're a part of the Taliban, we were pressed into this, but only as a cook, only as a driver, that type of thing. Certainly, make no mistake, there are detainees--from the transcripts here--that definitely make it clear that the United States is the enemy in their eyes and that they will attack again, given the chance.
But really, what it does is a catalogue for us of most of the detainees, about 370 that we're seeing here. And before, we only really had a sense of people who were released that talked to the press briefly, or from the lawyers, over the past years, from some of these detainees. This is a much clearer sense of who the U.S. is holding down at Guantanamo.
MONTAGNE: And do we learn anything about the review process itself from these documents?
NORTHAM: What we really learned is that there are some holes in this system. As you said, I've sat in on a number of these--and in fact, I'm going to sit on another one tomorrow--and you watch the process unfold in court and it is flawed in many ways. For example, this is supposed to be their day in court, yet they have no legal representation. They don't have access to much of the material, the evidence against them, because it is classified. And a lot of the evidence is inconclusive.
And there's also problems, real problems, with getting things like witnesses to help bump up the detainees case. You know, in many ways or in many times, these are people who are in the backwaters of Afghanistan. And they can't, detainees obviously can't get to these people. And the ones I saw, there was a lack of willingness on the part of the military panel to go out and try to find these people--primarily, you know, probably for logistics.
So, what these transcripts show are really, again, just the problem with the whole process.
MONTAGNE: And would that be why the Pentagon tried to keep them out of the public eye for so long?
NORTHAM: Yes, it depends who you talk to. The Pentagon, the administration says, this is a privacy issue. These people have a right to privacy. And the irony here is, of course, Renee, that they don't have any other rights under the Geneva Convention. But privacy seems to be an issue.
So there's that, but you know, one could always also argue that this, what it does is it opens up the whole process down here. It shows what's happening down here. And again, when you look at these transcripts, there do seem to be real problems with the process itself. So that could be the reason why they tried to hold it back for so long.
MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much.
NORTHAM: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Jackie Northam in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And you can read the Guantanamo detainee documents at NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Following are details from transcripts released by the Pentagon of "enemy combatant" hearings involving Guantanamo detainees. Source: The Associated Press
—Hafizullah Shah, from the village of Galdon in Afghanistan, was being held based on classified evidence he was not allowed to see. The farmer said he was walking to a bazaar when he was arrested. The United States said Shah was wearing an olive green jacket and was seen by soldiers with a group caching weapons. "I was just walking in the street and I was captured," Shah said. "The next thing I found out is that I am sitting here" in Guantanamo Bay.
—Mohammed Barak Salem Al-Qurbi, of Saudi Arabia, was identified as an al-Qaida operative by one of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards, according to the U.S. military tribunal. His passport shows he spent time in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates in 2001. The tribunal said he used a trick to hide his stay in Afghanistan. Al-Qurbi also was alleged to be an operative linked to the suicide bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors on Oct. 12, 2000, in Yemen, and to have managed a hostel for the extremist Islamic Taliban movement.
—Abdur Sayed Rahman, of Pakistan, identified himself as a poor chicken farmer. The United States alleged he was in the Taliban, either as a military judge or deputy foreign minister. It emerged during the hearing that the deputy minister is Abdur Zahid Rahman, a near homonym of the detainee. Police searched Abdur Sayed Rahman's home in Pakistan in the fall of 2001 and arrested him. "An American told me I was wrongfully taken and that in a couple of days I'd be freed," Rahman said. "I never saw that American again and I'm still here."
—Zakirjan Asam traveled from Tajikistan to Afghanistan in the spring of 2001. He was accused of being a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which allegedly has ties to the Taliban. Asam said he came to Afghanistan as a refugee and was turned over to U.S. forces because he could not afford to pay a bribe.
—Salih Uyar, 24 at the time of his tribunal hearing, traveled to Afghanistan from Turkey in 2000. He was accused of living with a known al-Qaida member for two months just before raids began in Kabul, Afghanistan, and of associating with Turkish radical religious groups. At the time of his capture, he had a Casio watch — a model that authorities say was used in bombings. "If it's a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel also carry this watch, too," Uyar told the military tribunal. "Does that mean that they're just terrorists as well?" Uyar also went to Syria but said his purpose was to study Arabic.
—Janat Gul ran Afghanistan's Ariana Airline when the Taliban government was in power. Gul, who previously had owned a shop and a mill, said he only took the job to avoid being forced to go to combat for the Taliban. He said the airline was not under government control and denied it provided Taliban fighters free flights to battle the Northern Alliance in the north. Gul said he quit his job several days after Sept. 11. "I was released from the oppression of a government, the Taliban government. I came out of the darkness into the light. ... I had left my job; even before the Americans came I was in my own house and in my own land," he said. He was arrested in January 2003 in Lashkargar, Afghanistan.
—Abdul Majid Muhammad, an Iranian identified as a "watchman" for the Taliban who went on patrols and acted as a guard. He says he was a poor well-digger in Iran who occasionally bought and sold opium and hashish. He was arrested twice in Iran. He said he went to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, because he wanted to get rich quick trading drugs, not to join the Taliban or fight Americans. "My plan was to get rich then put it behind me and leave it aside," he said. He says he was picked up by the Northern Alliance near the city of Ghazni.
—Assem Matruq Mohammad Al Aasami, a sometime restaurant worker who says he traveled from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and then Afghanistan to find work, not fight a holy war. He acknowledged that he did attend an al-Qaida-linked training camp, but said he did not realize what kind of camp it was. He said he was in the camp when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place. He is accused of being an enemy combatant.
—Abdullah Mujahid, an Afghan, said he was head of security for the city of Gardez and the Paktia province in post-Taliban Afghanistan when he was arrested in July 2003 and accused of an attack on U.S. forces in Gardez. Mujahid was also accused of associating with al-Qaida. He said he had actually aided coalition forces. "I invited them to come to Gardez, and I even rented the camp that they are in right now... And, instead of appreciation, or thankfulness, they punish me, and I get sent to Cuba."