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US releases eight Guantanamo inmates

Pentagon's move first since April

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon said yesterday it has released seven Guantanamo prisoners to their home countries after sending another to Spain where he will be questioned in an Al Qaeda probe. About 510 prisoners remain jailed.

Thirteen other men held at the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been cleared for release but remain jailed until the United States can arrange their return to their home countries, said Navy Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman.

Three men were sent to Saudi Arabia, two to Afghanistan, one to Sudan, and one to Jordan after being cleared in three different types of administrative review, officials said. The Pentagon declined to identify the men.

This release of detainees is the first since April.

An eighth man, a Moroccan identified by Spain as Lahcen Ikassrien, was transferred to Spanish authorities, the Pentagon said. Spain confirmed his extradition Monday.

The United States opened the Guantanamo prison in January 2002. The Pentagon said 242 detainees have been transferred out of the prison to other countries either to be freed or for continued detention, while about 510 remain at Guantanamo.

Many have been held for more than three years and only four have been charged.

Human rights groups have criticized the United States for the indefinite detentions, and former Guantanamo prisoners have said they were tortured.

The Pentagon said three of the released prisoners had been found by a military tribunal not to be ''enemy combatants," the designation the United States has given Guantanamo prisoners in denying them rights accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Three others were sent home under an administrative process in which special boards review the status of each prisoner annually, and another was cleared under a third kind of administrative process, the Pentagon said.

Twelve men who also have been found not to be enemy combatants and another cleared to go home under the annual review process still are waiting for the US government to arrange for their release, Plexico said.

Concern about the treatment they may face from their home governments seems to be a factor in the delay.

''The United States has made it clear that it does not send individuals to countries where it believes that it is more likely than not that they will be tortured or subject to persecution," Plexico said. ''This is US policy as well as US law."

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon had issued an arrest warrant for Ikassrien months after the Sept. 11 attacks on America, accusing him of being part of the Al Qaeda network responsible for the attacks.

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