GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — After four years of secrecy, the Pentagon
handed over documents on March 3 that contain the names of detainees held at the
U.S. military prison at Guantanamo. The release resulted from a victory by the
Associated Press in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The Bush administration had hidden the identities, home countries and other
information about the men, who were accused of taking up arms against the United
States. But a federal judge rejected administration arguments that releasing the
identities would violate the detainees' privacy and could endanger them and
The names were scattered throughout more than 5,000 pages of transcripts of
hearings at Guantanamo Bay. The names were given only in the testimony - when
court officials referred to them by name in their remarks or when one detainee
spoke of another detainee by name. The documents themselves released by the
Pentagon did not identify each detainee who testified.
In some cases, even having the name didn't clarify the identity. In one
document, a military tribunal president asks a detainee if his name is Jumma
Jan. The detainee responds that no, his name is Zain Ul Abedin.
Zahir Shah, an Afghan accused of being a member of an Islamic militant group
and of having a grenade launcher and other weapons in his house, admitted to
having rifles. He said it was for protection and insisted to the tribunal he did
not fight U.S. troops.
"The only thing I did in Afghanistan was farming. Other than that, I did not
do anything else in the country," Shah said, according to the transcripts.
The documents also contain the names of former prisoners, like Moazzam Begg
and Feroz Abbasi, both British citizens. A handwritten note shows Abbasi
pleading for prisoner-of-war status.
The status of other named detainees, such as Naibullah Darwaish, was not
immediately clear. Darwaish was described as having been the chief of police for
the Shinkai district in Zabol Province, Afghanistan, when he was captured.
Most of the men were captured during the 2001 U.S.-led war that drove the
Taliban from power in Afghanistan and sent Osama bin Laden deeper into
Most of the Guantanamo hearings were held to determine if the detainees were
enemy combatants. That classification, Bush administration lawyers say, deprives
the detainees of Geneva Convention prisoner-of-war protections and allows them
to be held indefinitely without charges.
Documents released last year — also because of a Freedom of Information Act
lawsuit by the AP — had the detainees' names and nationalities blacked out.
"Some folks don't want the names to be released for security and privacy
reasons. Other folks think it should be open to the world to see," Army Maj.
Jeffrey Weir, a Guantanamo spokesman, said March 3 outside the kitchen where
prisoners' food is prepared.
The documents, transcripts from at least 317 hearings at Guantanamo Bay,
should shed light on the scope of an insurgency still battling U.S. troops in
Afghanistan, in part by detailing how Muslims from many countries wound up
fighting alongside the Taliban there.
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York ruled in favor of the AP last
week, a major development in a protracted legal battle.
Some current and former Guantanamo detainees remained unidentified, even
after the release of the documents. An unknown number of the named prisoners
have been freed or transferred to custody elsewhere.
The AP has also filed suit seeking a list of all detainees who are being held
or have been held at the prison in eastern Cuba.
"This is extremely important information," said Curt Goering, senior deputy
executive director of Amnesty International USA. "We've been asking ever since
the camp opened for a list of everyone there as one of the most basic first
steps for any detaining authority."
Human rights monitors say keeping identities of prisoners secret can lead to
abuses and deprive their families of information about their fate.
The United States, which opened the prison on its Navy base in eastern Cuba
in January 2002, now holds about 490 prisoners at Guantanamo. Only 10 have been
charged with crimes.
Neal Sonnett, chairman of the American Bar Association's task force on enemy
combatants, said he hopes the documents will help focus attention on the
conditions for the detainees and the way the hearings were handled.
The documents that were released March 3 were unedited transcripts of the
"Perhaps even more important than just the identities of the detainees are
the unedited transcripts of the hearings, which I think will reveal a lot about
the way in which the detainees have been treated and the way in which their
status has been determined," Sonnett said. He was at Guantanamo to observe
pretrial hearings for two detainees charged with crimes.
The Pentagon's secrecy has drawn criticism from human rights groups and
"You can't just draw a veil of secrecy when you are locking people up," said
Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch. "You have to
do at least the minimum, which is to acknowledge who you are holding."
The Defense Department had argued that releasing the identities of detainees
could subject their families, friends and associates to embarrassment and
But Rakoff said the relatives and others "never had any reasonable
expectation" of anonymity. March 3 was the deadline he set for release of the
Last year, the judge ordered the government to ask each detainee whether he
or she wanted personal identifying information to be turned over to the AP as
part of the lawsuit.
Of 317 detainees who received the form, 63 said yes, 17 said no, 35 returned
the form without answering and 202 declined to return the form.
The judge said none of the detainees, not even the 17 who said they did not
want their identities exposed, had a reasonable expectation of privacy during