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Guantanamo files lift some secrecy

Transcripts shed light on detainees

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Offering a glimpse into the top-secret world of Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon has released the names and home countries of many detainees who have been held at the isolated military prison for up to four years.

A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press forced the Department of Defense on Friday afternoon to turn over some 5,000 pages of transcripts from closed-door hearings on the detainees, most of whom were accused of having links to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

While the Pentagon has not provided the full roster of detainees, the transcripts give the most detailed picture to date of who has been held at the prison on a US base in eastern Cuba, which has become the focus of international criticism in part because of the government's shroud of secrecy.

Jamie Fellner, director of the US program for Human Rights Watch, said the disclosure represents a ''major breach" in that secrecy.

''It will add to our understanding of who is there and what are the reasons that the US alleges they are there for," Fellner said.

The Pentagon released the documents after a federal judge rejected arguments by the administration of President Bush that releasing names, home countries, and other information would violate detainees' privacy and could endanger them and their families.

''These detainees, many of them are anxious to have the fact of their confinement at Guantanamo known," said David Tomlin, the AP's assistant general counsel. ''So we appreciate that the court saw fit to rule that the government is not a good custodian of the privacy interest of people who don't want secrecy, where they themselves are concerned."

The names are scattered throughout the transcripts of hearings, and it was unclear how many names the documents contained. In most of the transcripts, the person speaking is identified only as ''detainee."

Names appear only when court officials or detainees refer to people by name.

In some cases, even having the name did not clarify the identity. In one document, the tribunal president asked a detainee if his name is Jumma Jan. The detainee responds no, his name is Zain Ul Abedin.

The men were captured mostly during the 2001 US-led war that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and sent Osama bin Laden deeper into hiding, and the newly released documents shed light on some of the detainees' explanations.

Mohammed Gul, who said he was a farmer and gas station owner in his native Afghanistan, said he was mistakenly captured as a Taliban fighter when he returned to his country from Saudi Arabia to care for his sick wife.

''I don't want to spend any more time here, not one more minute," he told the tribunal.

Another detainee, whose name was not included in the transcripts, was accused of hiring a smuggler with ties to militant Muslim groups to help him get to the United States from Pakistan. The prisoner said he made it to Mexico, after flying to Guatemala, but he did not intend to attack the United States.

''I was going to find a job to make some money," he said.

Human rights monitors say keeping identities of prisoners secret can lead to abuses and deprive their families of information about their fate.

About 490 prisoners are being held at Guantanamo Bay; 10 have been charged with a crime.

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