Future Uncertain for Former Guantanamo Detainees As rumors circulate about the closing of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, many detainees find themselves trapped in legal limbo. Many are barred from returning to their countries of origin, and those who can return home face consequences ranging from unemployment, to ostracism, to torture.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12380361/12380362" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Future Uncertain for Former Guantanamo Detainees


Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12380361/12380362" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

A few months after the terrorist attack from September 11, 2001, the Defense Department began to imprison so-called enemy combatants at the United States military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The Bush administration said that the prisoners were suspected terrorists, that they were involved in past attacks and that they helped plan future ones. But since the detention camp opened in 2002, the Pentagon has released more than 400 prisoners and Defense Department officials have said they plan to release another 150.

Once released, former detainees face uncertain futures. Even if they can return to their countries of origin - and many can't - they face consequences ranging from unemployment to ostracism to torture. Later in the program, the rift in public opinion over Hillary Clinton's cleavage. What a revealing outfit reveals or doesn't about a candidate's fitness for the presidency.

But first, Guantanamo Bay. We want to know what you think. If you have questions about where former detainees have gone, what may happen to those whose release is pending, join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog. It's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Here with us in Studio 3A is NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam. Welcome, Jackie.


ROBERTS: First, let me ask about the rumors of closing Guantanamo Bay. Where does that stand?

NORTHAM: Well, at this point, they are rumors. Certainly, President Bush has said he would like to see Guantanamo Bay closed and as commander in chief, you know, he does have the final say on this. And many others in the administration - certainly, the State Department, would like to see this closed. They recognize that it is the blight on America's image certainly overseas, and it actually damages U.S. credibility for the things, you know, foreign policy that they're trying to carry out around the world.

But it hasn't gone any further than just talking at this point. In fact, every time I go down to Guantanamo - there's always a swirl of how they want to close. I'm always struck by how much they're still building the place up. You know, there's new - physically new buildings going up, new prisons in that. They've got windmills up now that create the electricity for about 25 percent of the base, new facilities for, you know, all the military - U.S. military personnel that are down there. So it really hasn't gone any further than just talking about it.

ROBERTS: So who is still there? Where are the - who are the detainees, basically?

NORTHAM: Who are the detainees? Well, that's a very good question. We don't know a whole lot about them. There's been lawsuits and freedom of information at request, and that's about the only time we get information. When they're released, we're told what countries they go back to. And that, we do have a few details, so certainly - last fall, when the president said that 14 high-value detainees were on their way to Guantanamo and that includes, really, 9/11 alleged masterminds like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh and that type of thing.

There is a lot of people that say to us that there are low-level foot soldiers at the very best settled in Guantanamo right now. The people that were sort of swept up in the heat of the battle, so to speak, during the, you know, when America invaded Afghanistan and that a lot of people were picked up from Pakistan, which wasn't the battlefield, and that there were $5,000 bounties given out to anybody that was handing in over these people. And that might attest to why we're seeing so many that are being released right now from Guantanamo.

ROBERTS: So that rhetoric that we used to hear about, these are the worst of the worst, these are people who would chew through fuel lines to bring down a plane - one of the most colorful examples. Is it that, that sort of rhetoric that is no longer valuable or has more information about these people come to light in the last few years?

NORTHAM: Could be a little bit of both. You know, it's hard for me to say whether somebody should be in there or not. But I've always been left with the feeling that there are certainly people at Guantanamo that you never want to let see the light of day again. But there are hundreds of people there. It is becoming apparent that shouldn't have been there in the first place, or the evidence was so slim against them that they probably shouldn't have been there.

And again, we're seeing this when they are released. I just did a story this week, and I, you know, Human Rights Watch and Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International, they've been charting the release of these prisoners and there are about 420 that have been released right now. And that's more than half that were actually held there in the first place.

And for the most part, these people, when they get back home, they're either, outright released, they may be prosecuted but then are acquitted, or they serve very short jail terms. And so, you know, one of the things that we looked into was, was there enough evidence to hold these people in the first place? Were they as, quote, unquote, "the worst of the worst"? And it appears increasingly and likely that many of them are not. But again, one can only assume that there are some people that really do need to be at - in a facility like Guantanamo, if not, Guantanamo proper.

The other thing, though, Rebecca, is if you have these people and you're making these assertions about them? Why can you not try them? Why can you not prosecute them at least to somehow ease the international condemnation against the United States who are holding them in a way that the U.S. has?

ROBERTS: Well, what's the answer to that question? I mean, at one point, there was some talk of moving some of these people into the U.S., into that legal system.

NORTHAM: Yeah. And again, you know, it sets the rumors about closing down Guantanamo. I think that's as far as it got. About a month and a half ago, the fellow who - the man who was heading up detainee operations, his name is Alan Liotta, he held a roundtable, and I actually got some tape of this.

And what he said during that conversation was he indicated that the U.S. was not even looking at bringing these people onto U.S. soil at this point. And one of the reasons he said is that if they come back to the U.S. then they would be given - there would be protections under the Geneva Conventions, which does not apply down at Guantanamo.

ROBERTS: Changes their legal status. Right.

NORTHAM: Absolutely. And he said, under those Geneva Conventions, you cannot house these people next to common criminals. So what the U.S. would have to do is build new facilities or they would have to expand existing facilities. And he said even that, it wouldn't work. It's just a security risk, he said. Bringing them on to U.S. soil would be so great that he just wouldn't let the local - a lot of the local communities to go through that or the first responders.

The other thing, Rebecca, though, over and over and over again, you know, because I travel abroad quite a lot. That's where you hear most of the indignation, most of the anger about Guantanamo is outside of American borders. You don't hear it as much. It's not as loud within America's borders at all. And I don't - even though everybody's saying, close Guantanamo and Congress - many people in Congress are saying, close Guantanamo. I'm not sure there's a real appetite to start bringing these so-called suspected terrorists onto American soil.

ROBERTS: And what about of the hundreds that have been released so far? How widespread is the problem of them not having anywhere to go? Those that are not allowed back into their country, largely.

NORTHAM: That's been a real sticking point. And again, if everybody's saying close Guantanamo that is one of the real conundrums of trying to close Guantanamo is, what do you do with these people? If you look at the moment, there are about 80 detainees, prisoners right now that are cleared for release or transfer back to their home countries or, you know, to a third nation. They can't get rid of those people. Their home countries don't want them or the people - you know, countries where they have set up residency before they were picked up, they don't want them.

You know, there was a case of some Uighurs. This is the classic case. It was - a group of Uighurs there, Chinese Muslims from western China. They're sort of separatists from China. And, they, you know, they were picked up and it became clear immediately that these were not - these people are not a threat to the U.S. and that they should not be held at Guantanamo.

It took two years, and the U.S. had to approach a hundred countries to find one country that would take these men that have been cleared. They were considered no longer - not enemy combatants, and that country was Albania. So this is a problem we're seeing over and over and over again. And the State Department says, look, you know, everybody's telling us around the world to close this place down. Some of these countries around the world have to start stepping up and take these people.

But at that point, you know, they just cannot get rid of a lot of these people. There's 80 right now - Mr. Liotta, in his capacity as, you know, head of detainee operations, says they will go and try to get rid of another 75, so you're looking at 155 right there.

ROBERTS: And I should say that in a few minutes we're going to be joined by Sabin Willett who has been representing some of those Uighur detainees.


ROBERTS: And help us understand the process of release a little bit. You mentioned that it took two years to find a place for the Uighurs to go. Do they know they are scheduled for release in the meantime? How much information do you suppose the detainees have about this process?

NORTHAM: Right, I mean, the Uighurs was such a special case. They knew, they put them in their own separate compound, because they knew that they just weren't being treated fairly right there.

Certainly, no, the detainees, by and large, do not know that they are going to be cleared for release, and it's quite a long process.

Just to back up a little bit, every detainee goes through something called the CSRT, and that's a tribunal - Combatant Status Review Tribunal. And what that does is it determines, using evidence, whether they can be held indefinitely, okay, at Guantanamo. And then after that, they go through an annual review board, and all their information is reviewed again, and the evidence we heard just - sort of, legions of problems with this is that the evidence is extremely thin or it's generic, or it's dated, that type of thing - the unclassified evidence certainly. And so after that they go through this annual review board, and then that's when the Pentagon says that they start compiling whether they should be allowed to release them or not. And that's really what determines it at that point.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Ally(ph) in Philadelphia. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ALLY (Caller): Hi, thanks for the show and highlighting this important point. Very quickly, what I want to say is, I'm just very surprised, up until this point, neither the NGOs in the U.S. or the, you know, the other civil liberty union or any national organization have been able to stop this here in the U.S. or - that's not case even abroad. I mean, there's a lot of, you know, Geneva Conventions, I mean, laws that have been broken by the U.S. government since then and up until this point nothing has happened.

And since, like, these people are being deported to countries where they're going to, most likely - it's like they pay for their sentence here in the U.S. by spending five years, and then they're released because they're not a threat to the U.S. government and its ally, but then they go back to this country and, basically, that's the end of their lives. They'll never live a normal life again. So I'm not surprised, like the guy from Algeria who's fighting now, not wanting to go back because going back to Algeria would probably be worse than staying in Guantanamo, and that's kind of crazy.

ROBERTS: Thanks for your call. You've talked to some of these former detainees in Bahrain, specifically.

NORTHAM: Mm-hmm. Right. Yes, I did. I actually went to Bahrain, and I did a feature on two of them. And, you know, one of the fellows, I mean, his life is actually - the last time I talked to him, his life was virtually ruined. He had lost his job, he couldn't get it back, it was the stigma about being in Guantanamo. I have to say, when he got back, both of them - actually there's four of them that have been released from Guantanamo now, they were held about an hour by the Bahraini authorities, and then they were released.

The other fellow that I talked with, he was from a very, very well-to-do family. He was much younger, he was 18 when he was taken in, and he's gotten on with his life. He's married, and I believe he's a father now, as well. It's - I do want to actually address one of things that is brought up in this question though, and this is why, you know, camp organizations like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch…

ROBERTS: I actually want to ask you that just after the break, because we're up against the clock, but I'd like to get to that after this quick break. And coming up, we'll also talk to John Bellinger from the U.S. State Department. He's been involved in making decisions about what will happen to the prisoners at Guantanamo.

We're also taking your calls at 800-989-TALK or you can send us e-mail, talk@npr.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts, it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington.

Life at Guantanamo Bay Prison is hard, but for many, life after prison is not that much better. Even former prisoners, who have somewhere to go, face an uncertain future. This is Adel Hajee, who spent four years incarcerated there.

(Soundbite of Adel Hajee's Interview)

Mr. ADEL HAJEE (Former Guantanamo Bay Detainee): Yeah, it's very hard. No job, no work, no advice from the government or from any organizations. It's becoming like you spend all the time in Guantanamo, and coming back, you are zero. Nothing in your hand. It's very difficult to continue the life.

ROBERTS: With me today is Jackie Northam. She's NPR's national security correspondent. And we're taking your questions about the prisoners at Guantanamo. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Jackie, just before the break, we had a caller asking about the role of NGOs. I want to give you a chance to answer that.

NORTHAM: Well, absolutely. I do believe that organizations like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch and Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty, Human Rights First. All of these groups, they haven't - what they've done is they've just created a pressure on the government so they've had Freedom of Information Act lawsuits that have helped us to get information. They've gone to countries where people have been released to talk to, you know, former detainees. They've pressed - they've organized defense lawyers to help represent some of the people. And all this has, at least, created more publicity about what's happening at Guantanamo and, in a sense, created pressure on the administration to either change some of its policies or massage them slightly. So they have had a role, it's not a direct get-everybody-out-of-Guantanamo, but nobody's certain that anybody wants that either.

ROBERTS: And also joining us here in Studio 3A is John Bellinger. He's the legal advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He's been involved in many of the decisions relating to the terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN BELLINGER (Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State): Thanks. It's nice to be here.

ROBERTS: You've been listening to this discussion. What assurances, if any, does the United States seek from countries where detainees have gone, that they won't be persecuted or harmed?

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, in cases where we think that there is a risk that individuals who returned may be mistreated, then we will try to get assurances from the country that they will be treated properly. Our actual, technical legal obligation is to ensure that it is not more likely than not that someone will be tortured if they are returned. So, if there are countries in Western Europe that we think it's not an issue, we don't have to seek the assurances. If there are countries that have got a bad human rights record, we spend a very long time, years, negotiating assurances. And there are some countries that we will just not accept assurances from at all.

ROBERTS: And what about after the release, is there any monitoring system in place?

Mr. BELLINGER: We take very seriously the allegations that we hear, and we're acutely aware of them, that individuals who have been returned to have then been mistreated, and we try to follow up on all of those. We take those quite seriously.

ROBERTS: And what about the detainees for whom their home country won't accept them back?

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, that is really, as I think Jackie said earlier, the conundrum for us and that we are trying very hard to release or transfer as many people out of Guantanamo as we can, back to their home countries other than the ones who we want to prosecute. But there are numerous countries in the world that simply don't want their nationals back or that we simply feel we cannot return them to those countries.

So, we really get it from both ends. We get criticized for have - holding people in Guantanamo, but we are criticized for turning them back over to certain counties.

There's a lot of activity going on that maybe we should talk about more than negotiations that we've got going on with several dozen countries around the world for them to take back their nationals and to give us the assurances of fair treatment when people go back.

ROBERTS: I was going to ask you, John and Jackie Northam. You know, there's some, we sent back other - the U.S. has sent other people to Albania, I'm thinking an Algerian that was there, an Uzbek. And these are people - and the Uighurs, obviously, is the other one - that it isn't their home country, that nobody speaks their language there. There's no community there, that type of thing. Is there not something that can be done to send them to some nation where they want to go? I'm just thinking of Dr. Mohammed, who wanted to go to France, and yet did France not - the Algerian did not want to take Dr. Mohammed?

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, let me say two things. I mean, one, there are, in fact, many, many countries around the world that have got populations of Uighurs, where the Uighurs could have been reintegrated in a heartbeat. As you mentioned earlier, we've approached more than 100 countries around the world to take the Uighurs. We would have let them go years ago, but no country is willing to take them. We have felt we can't sent them back to China, but there are many, many countries that have got large Uighur populations who've written to us and said, we will take responsibility for these people. It ultimately came down to us. Leave them in Guantanamo or do we send them to a country like Albania that was at least willing to take them and help them try to reintegrate?

ROBERTS: I want to take a call. This is Ted(ph) in North Carolina. Ted, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

TED (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. My question is, if these people are not a threat to the, you know, to the United States and other countries, who will not accept them, why not give them legal residence here?

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, talking about the Uighurs in particular, which is a quite narrow category, we have felt that they don't pose a threat to the United States because they were basically in Afghanistan, training in al-Qaida training camps to fight the Chinese. On the other hand, U.S. immigration laws do not allow people to be resettled in the United States, who have trained in acts of terrorism. So, while they may not pose a threat to us, they have trained in acts of terrorism and, therefore, are ineligible for resettlement in the United States.

But I would like to make a larger point here is - although these resettlements are very difficult, we should not assume that everyone who is being released from Guantanamo is being released because they are innocent. That is the picture that is being painted here, that of the 400 people who we've released, that it's 400 mistakes, and that people are going home because we've made mistakes.

The fact is, from the beginning, we have said we don't want to be the world's jailers. We want the countries of nationality of these individuals to take responsibility for their nationals. So, when you see transfers or releases, yes, in some cases, there has been determined to just simply not be enough evidence. That happens in any war, but in most of the circumstances, it's because we want other countries to take responsibility for their nationals. The fact that they are then unable to prosecute them or release them, there, again doesn't necessarily mean that they are innocent of having done anything wrong. It may simply be that those countries don't have laws on their books, the evidence, or the political will to prosecute these individuals.

ROBERTS: John, I just wanted to ask you. What sort of assurances does the State Department seek or insist in - once they turn a detainee back over to a home country or to a third nation, and has that changed over the years, because so many people have been released immediately?

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, it's a good question and we've actually tried to start talking about this more. The reason, actually, we don't talk a lot about these negotiations is because, frankly, in most of the countries that we are talking about in the Middle East, if we were to wear our negotiations publicly and to try to put public pressure on these governments, they would just simply shut down. It's not like trying to embarrass, frankly, a European country for being unwilling to take back its nationals.

So, there's a lot of quiet negotiations in which we insist on assurances, ironclad assurances, specific assurances, written assurances, and high level assurances. And each of those steps of the way, countries will say, well, we're willing to give you an assurance, but we don't want to give it you in writing. Or we're willing to have the second secretary in the embassy give it to you. Or we'll give you sort of general assurances that say, of course, we will treat them in accordance with Islamic law, or our local laws. And in each of these cases, we will spend years negotiating the assurances. And at the end of the day, we may still not be satisfied with the assurances that we get.

Let me say something though about the assurances, though, that the detainees give us sometimes. You know, again, the picture that's painted by all of the detainees under counsel is that all of them are entirely innocent. That they were all in the wrong place at the wrong time, seeking to do charitable good works or seeking spouses. And, you know, I think the answer is, in a lot of these cases, somewhere in between. The day that Jackie - that you did your story yesterday about people resettling and leading normal lives, came actually several days after The Washington Post and New York Times did large front page stories about an individual returned from Guantanamo a couple of years ago named Abdullah Mehsud, who turned out, after proclaiming that he was completely innocent in the wrong place at the wrong time, went back to being the top Taliban leader for Waziristan responsible for deaths of a number of Chinese engineers.

ROBERTS: Well, but wouldn't that argue if you have both of those stories going on at the same time, that Guantanamo is broken.

Mr. BELLINGER: The - what it shows, and this is really the point I make when I go around the world is, Guantanamo is a difficult situation and a frustrating situation for all of us. In any normal war, it's a lot easier, because people wear uniforms, and they wear dog tags, and you know who are fighting you. When you pick people up who are in civilian clothes, who don't have dog tags or identification, and then the first thing they say to you, even if they had a gun in their hand is, you know, I was here to engage in charitable good works. And then the onus appears to shift from the international community on us to somehow prove that they were doing something wrong. It's just a very difficult situation.

ROBERTS: But, I mean, cannot you assume that it's going to be more the norm than the exception that combatants don't wear dog tags? Isn't this something that U.S. needs to learn?

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, I can tell you, certainly, we've learned a lot over the last five or six years. You know, in - on September 11, September 12, 2001, there really was not a book on the shelf that gave us all the answers about how to deal with these people. The future of modern warfare may well be that we are going to be fighting people who are not part of a national standing army, and that's why we've had to come up with these new procedures, combatant status review tribunals, military commissions. What it doesn't say is that we are ignoring the clear existing rules. What it shows us is that we have to adapt. We've obviously not gotten it right each step of the way. But it's quite difficult to do.

And there are - let me say this, the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee did a couple of months ago what's probably the definitive study, outside study on Guantanamo. They went down there several times. And they came back and said, without a doubt, there are many, many dangerous people down in Guantanamo, who should not be released. The United States is bearing the burden, subject to great opprobrium around the world heaped upon us in holding them.

ROBERTS: What did they base that on, though, on the information that was given to them by the U.S. government or…

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, I think, you know, you've got to - they looked at the bios of a lot of these people that showed that they, in fact, had been training in terrorist training camps. Again, the picture that is painted is that all of these people are sort of completely innocent, but if you actually do dig a little bit deeper, the Canadian, for example, who is on trial right now, was -is on trial for throwing a hand grenade in the middle of a firefight with U.S. forces, killing a U.S. Special Forces soldier. So, not all of these people are the innocent choirboys that are portrayed. I'm simply saying that this is difficult.

ROBERTS: So in that case boy is the operative word. He was 15 at that time.

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, he may have been 15 at that time, but he made the choice to go in. And there is a soldier's family, who now doesn't have a father anymore because he was killed by a 15-year-old. We hold 15-year-olds responsible in the United States as well.

Again, I'm not saying this is - we're all right every step of the way, but the implication is that the United States government has been wrong every step of the way. And that's not just an accurate portrayal.

ROBERTS: I just want - can I just ask one thing that Mehsud, though, was one of seven identified people who, quote, "returned to the battlefield," out of 420 still. I mean, yes, he is then, he did go back and, you know, you - the information (unintelligible).

Mr. BELLINGER: Well, it's hard for us to keep track of these people. They may be…

ROBERTS: Yeah. But, I mean, that's really a small fraction.


Mr. BELLINGER: Well, one, many of the governments that we've sent people to keep very close tabs on them because after they've grudgingly taken people back, they try very hard to make sure that they don't get back into the fight. So I think that's an unfair criticism to suggest that because you can - we can only show - and actually, the Defense Department thinks there are about 30, who were actually actively engaged in fighting us, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the other 430 were really wrong place wrong time. It may mean that they are being pretty closely monitored in the countries that we went to.

Again, the reason that we've returned the vast majority of these people is not because that they are innocent or that we determined that they didn't pose a threat, but that we thought we could get their governments to take responsibility for them.

ROBERTS: John Bellinger, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. BELLINGER: Thanks. It's nice to be here.

ROBERTS: John Bellinger is the legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He joined us here in Studio 3A.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And also joining us now is Sabin Willett. He's a partner with the law firm of Bingham McCutchen, and he represents Uighur prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on a pro bono basis. He joins us from member station WBUR in Boston. Welcome.

Mr. SABIN WILLETT (Partner, Bingham McCutchen; Attorney for Chinese Uighurs): Good afternoon, Rebecca.

ROBERTS: So you've been listening to this conversation. I imagine you've been taking notes and building up responses.

Mr. WILLETT: Well, I was interested to hear Mr. Bellinger say that our clients had been in an al-Qaida training camp. No one's ever said that before. The military has never said that. There's no record I've ever seen that says that. That's all new.

ROBERTS: So what legal rights do Guantanamo detainees have?

Mr. WILLETT: Well, it's going to take two hours if we go down that torturous path.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Please don't do that.

Mr. WILLETT: We're stuck in a D.C. Circuit process that involves going back to look at all of the government's information, including classified information, that had either did or didn't give to the CSRTs that Mr. Bellinger mentioned years ago.

But the fact of the matter is so much more simple. And it comes back to the question, Rebecca, you asked at the outset - who are these people? And, to some extent, propaganda has answered that question. I think I heard each of you, Jackie, Rebecca and John, all use the phrase terror suspects. And I said to myself, who suspects them of terror? I'd like to meet them. It's not in any of the records. No one's ever alleged it. So it's just not right to call them terror suspects. But as soon as you do that, everybody listening to your program, thinks that they must be dangerous.

And we have this absurdity of the Uighurs, who are congratulated on their innocence four years ago, okay? And they're still there this afternoon. Five are in Albania, but the others are still there in Guantanamo. And why? Because no one else will take them. And if you go and ask those other countries why they won't take them, they ask you - they say to you, why don't you take them? And we have this sort of strange response from Mr. Bellinger: well, we're recommending them for release to all of our allies, but we can't take them here. It doesn't make any sense. If you are really serious about emptying out the hundreds of absurd cases at Guantanamo, you'd take a few here in the U.S. so that our allies could support us. But until that happens, you're going to have the roadblock that exists at the base right now.

ROBERTS: So what was the rationale behind the Uighurs' detainment if you object to the term terror suspect?

Mr. WILLETT: Somebody in Pakistan collected $5,000 to turn in a foreigner to the U.S. And by the time the U.S. had him in possession, it was easier to just ship him over to Gitmo than make a decision to release him. I have a feeling some of that had to do with the difficulty of finding Uighur translators in wartime Afghanistan, which is where they were first shipped.

Then things got really complicated in the summer of 2002 when we were courting the Chinese for their support for our Iraq invasion. And a deal was cut that these people would be kept in Guantanamo if the Chinese would not resist U.S. attack. And that's what happened. That's why they're there.

ROBERTS: Coming up, we'll continue talking about the future of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

And later, how much does a candidate's neckline matter?

I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington filling in for Neal Conan.

Right now, we're speaking with Sabin Willet. He's a partner with the law firm Bingham McCutchen. And he represents Uighur prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on a pro bono basis.

Also with us is NPR's Jackie Northam. She's our national security correspondent.

And I wanted to take a call. This is Tom(ph) in Minneapolis. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

TOM (Caller): Yes. Thank you. We know that some of the detainees at Guantanamo have been subject to extreme interrogation methods such as water boarding. And members of the U.S. military and law enforcement who've been to Guantanamo have voiced concerns about these methods. And what I wonder is that, when some of these detainees are released, are they given any kind of support from the U.S. for any kind of psychological trauma they might have suffered in Guantanamo or are they just kind of - or are they just put out on the street?

ROBERTS: Tom, thanks for your call. Jackie do you have an answer for him?

NORTHAM: Yes, I believe I do. They take no support from the U.S. government once they're released. In fact, the Pentagon says that they, as a rule, do not track detainees once they're released. Although the State Department does say that they investigate any allegations of torture. They invested - you know, they take them serious and that type of thing. But, no, they're certainly not offered anything. And in fact, I spoke with one detainee who was released, Moazzam Begg, he's a British man, he says, no apology, no nothing. You're just back home. And frankly, I think a lot of them are just glad to be back home and get over, you know, the ordeal.

ROBERTS: And, Sabin Willet, what is your ideal outcome, not just for the Uighur detainees, but the Guantanamo in general? Do you think it should be closed? And what would that look like?

Mr. WILLETT: Well, I think we miss a core point, which is that there probably are people there, who are either enemy soldiers in the classic sense or who could be held to be tried for some offense, some crime. Those processes should work. The relief now that we need is habeas corpus, the quick, efficient hearing in front of a judge to answer the question that you're asked at the top of the hour, who are these people? And the people like the Uighurs, and there are many others, who are civilians that have been there for six years, they need to be released. If no country will take them, they need to be released here. You know, when did we become such a puny nation that we can't take responsibility for our own mistakes? These people that have been determined not to be a threat to anyone, they need to be released. They need to be released tomorrow morning.

ROBERTS: Do you think there's any political will for that?

Mr. WILLET: No. I fear that there is insufficient political will for that. And that has been a problem. I don't know why more congressmen and senators aren't concerned about the fact that our flag is flying over that place. And it is our prestige and reputation around the world that are shamed by it every day.

ROBERTS: Sabin Willet, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. WILLET: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: Sabin Willet is a partner with the law firm of Bingham McCutchen. He represents Uighur prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. And he joined us from member station WBUR in Boston.

We've also been joined by NPR's Jackie Northam. Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: She is NPR's national security correspondent.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.