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U.S.: List Of Guantanamo Detainees Has Some Surprises

  • Julie Corwin

Compelled by a U.S. court, the Pentagon has released a new, more extensive list of detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba. Some 558 names were included on the list. Countries with the largest number of citizens, ranked in descending order, are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Yemen. For the first time, the U.S. military confirmed it is holding Muhammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi citizen who is alleged to have been planning to participate in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- On April 20, RFE/RL spoke with John Daly, a UPI news agency international correspondent and a contributing editor on terrorism to "Vanity Fair" magazine, about the list.

RFE/RL: You have been following developments at the Guantanamo Bay facility closely for some years. Did the new list surprise you in any way?

John Daly: The general numbers are from my own research about where I thought they were. But I'm surprised to see nine Libyans, an Azeri, an Iranian, an Ethiopian. But otherwise, [the] numbers largely coincide with my own work.

RFE/RL: What about the large number of Central Asians?

Daly: For me, as a former Soviet specialist, it's of extreme interest that while I noted a couple of years ago there were 11 Tajiks there, they currently list six, five Uzbeks, three Kazakhs, and one Azeri.

RFE/RL: Had the Kazakhs been known about before?

Daly: I knew about the Kazakhs, and the Kazakh Embassy maintains these people were engaged in humanitarian work and were simply swept up in the dragnet.

RFE/RL: And the Uzbeks?

Daly: Of course, a country like Uzbekistan, while I'm sure that behind the scenes they are discreetly asking for the return of their nationals, have no great desire to publicize the fact that these individuals are there.

RFE/RL: But their identities are well-known to Uzbek authorities?

Daly: My own impression from talking to security officials in Tashkent is yes, they are fairly capable, and they are fairly aware of militants outside their borders.

RFE/RL: In March, the Pentagon released a list with 517 names and yesterday [April 19] they released a list with 558 names. Does that mean that 41 new names have been added or is the list constantly changing?

Daly: It's interesting that you ask that, because, of course, all the material on who comes in and who leaves is classified. There do seem to have been more people shuffled in, but, of course, as you know from your own research, the Pentagon and the Bush administration are discreetly attempting to release a number of people there, most prominently, perhaps, the Chinese Uyghurs. And unfortunately for the Bush administration, they have yet to find a government that will take them. So this is a number in flux.

RFE/RL: How do you interpret the large number of Yemenis? Can we draw conclusions from this number about terrorism in Yemen?

Daly: I talked to someone at the Yemeni Embassy when I was doing my research and they said that the numbers that they have been given were inaccurate. They thought they were higher. The major problem seems to be that Guantanamo is not the terrorism supermax. Hambali [an Indonesian-born terrorist leader] does not seem to be there [and] a number of others. The Bush administration has detention centers far beyond Guantanamo -- reputedly there is one on Diego Garcia called Camp Justice. People have been held at Bagram [Air Base in Afghanistan]. We've read about the rendition flights through Europe and Eastern Europe. So it's a shell game to a certain extent.

RFE/RL: So not everyone being held on Guantanamo is necessarily a terrorist?

Daly: On the one hand, they are saying these are the worst of the worst, to paraphrase [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. And yet, on the other hand, advocates for the detainees indicate that anywhere from two-thirds to four-fifths of them are simply people caught up in the misfortunes of war. Certainly, some of the recent people liberated, such as the Brits, have indicated that there was simply, when the U.S. went in, a bounty-hunter arrangement. People were fingered, and money changed hands. And the next thing they knew, they were in Cuba.
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