New Guantanamo Docs Reveal ID's of Detainees

Several reports have described the inhumane treatment of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba — accounts the Bush administration has denied. Noah Adams speaks with Jackie Northam, reporting from Guantanamo Bay, about newly released documents that detail the identities of the facility's inmates and how they're being treated.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

But first to Guantanamo. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been defending conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. At a speech in London, he said detainees at that facility have access to state-of-the-art medical care, healthy food and the chance to observe their religious beliefs. This comes in response to the thousands of pages of transcripts newly released from Guantanamo detailing both who is being held and how they're being treated.

And joining us from Guantanamo is NPR's Jackie Northam whose been there the past few days. Jackie, I understand you have in fact been given unprecedented access there that nobody's had before.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

That's right, Noah. Certainly I was given a three-hour background briefing just by myself with commanding general. I have and hour and a half interview with him today. And he also took me into what's now called the evidence room. This was all material that was gathered out when many of the detainees here were captured. That was four years ago. You know, and all the stuff was bundled up into plastic bags and boxes and shipped over here. Just in the past year they're getting to this stuff now. And the military officers here are really excited about what they've got, they said. Look it, you know, we've got people who came in and said, Well look, it we're just poor dirt farmers. They found that they had thousands of dollars worth of $100 bills, some forged, some real, multiple passports.

There are notebooks that talk about aeronautical engineering, and one of the interrogators told me there's some stuff about nuclear issues in there as well.

ADAMS: They just let you look.

NORTHAM: So they've got this enormous amount of evidence.

ADAMS: They just let you look at any of this on the shelf?

NORTHAM: No, they let me look at a very limited amount of stuff. But what was behind, you know, what I was allowed to see are just boxes and boxes of documents, about 130,000 documents alone. There's also equipment such as GPS devices. That type of thing. They have a lot of stuff in there that they've got to go through still. But they're very excited, they say, because it gives them a much better sense of who they're holding here. And they didn't have that. They didn't have as much of that before.

ADAMS: From these talks and from looking at that material, what more have you been able to learn about the detainees from what you knew before?

NORTHAM: Where we get a lot of information about the detainees is from these administrative review boards, especially the ones that were just made public. Basically we learned a lot about who is being held here during these administrative review boards. And the transcripts from these boards were just made public last Friday. This is the opportunity, these hearings, for the detainees to defend themselves essentially, and also to hear what evidence that the military has against him.

Now, what's interesting about these things, I spoke with the fellow that runs these hearings, and he was saying yesterday, he admitted that this is a huge risk that they run when they make a decision about these detainees. 'Cause they have three options: release them, transfer them so their home nations can deal with them, or keep them here. If they make the decision to release them, it's an enormous risk, he said, that they're running, because it's been documented that some of them do go back onto the battlefield. And if you look at the prison break in Yemen several weeks ago, all those prisoners came from Guantanamo and all those prisoners were cleared.

So these administrative review boards do hold the thing. But they are trying to reduce the number of prisoners here. And that's the idea of these review boards. But again, they do run a huge risk when they decide to release some of these detainees.

ADAMS: The United Nations is wanting, has called for Guantanamo Bay to be closed down. What's your feeling about that?

NORTHAM: Well, everybody wants Guantanamo to be closed down, it seems. The UN certainly, the European Commission came out and said they wanted it closed down. Britain's Foreign Minister, one of our greatest allies, said he wanted it closed down. And Tony Blair just stopped short of it as well. But I have to tell you, there's absolutely no sign of that happening here. If anything, they're building up. They've put in wind turbines to help create 25 percent of the energy that's used here. They're building new barracks. They're building, you know, they've introduced a KFC and an A&W, and everything else. There is no sense that this place is closing down whatsoever. But they are trying to get rid of as many detainees as they can. They're trying to just keep what they always call the worst of the worst here.

ADAMS: NPR's Jackie Northam talking with us from Guantanamo Bay. Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Noah.

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