Pentagon releases names of 558 prisoners held at Guantanamo

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The Independent US

The Pentagon has released its first official list of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, revealing that on the roster of 558 names, nearly two- thirds are nationals from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Almost all have been branded enemy combatants by the US government in its war on terror.

Made public in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Associated Press, the list comprises all the detainees processed at hearings under the so-called combatant status review tribunal at the Guantanamo between in July 2004 and January 2005.

"This is information that should have been released a long time ago, and it's a scandal that it hasn't been," said Bill Goodman, legal director of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, one of many groups trying to orchestrate legal efforts on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.

The names represent about three-quarters of those who have passed through the camp since it was opened in 2002 after the end of the war in Afghanistan. Most are believed still to be in captivity at the camp. It is thought there are 490 detainees.

Only 10 of those named by the Pentagon have so far been selected for trial by a military tribunal, details attached to the list show. Among them is David Hicks, a Muslim from Australia, who allegedly fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is charged with attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Lawyers have been attempting, so far unsuccessfully, to establish British citizenship for Mr Hicks, whose mother was born in London. British authorities have reportedly told US counterparts that Mr Hicks admitted training at a camp in Afghanistan with Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber.

Also named are several senior officials of the former Taliban government that was toppled by the American-led invasion. They include the regime's former defence ministry chief of staff, Mullah Mohammed Fazil, as well as two Taliban intelligence officials, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Gholam Ruhani. All are thought to be at the camp.

The list also names the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. But he was released from Guantanamo at the end of 2005.

For the first time, the Pentagon has confirmed that Guantanamo also holds Muhammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi national it describes as the 20th hijacker dispatched to the US by al-Qa'ida to join the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and other targets on 11 September 2001. He never made it into the country because he was intercepted by customs officials at the airport in Orlando, Florida.

Criticism of conditions at Guantanamo was fuelled last year after reports of human rights violations specific to Mr Qahtani. A log-book obtained by Time magazine showed he was frequently denied access to lavatories, interrogated through the night and subjected to loud Western rock music in his cell.

Nationals from a total of 41 countries appear on the new list, although by far the largest number come from Saudi Arabia (132) followed by Afghanistan (125) and Yemen (107).

An independent panel investigating missing combatants from the war in Afghanistan welcomed the Pentagon's decision to confirm all the names.

"This is very good news and it helps us because now it is easy for us to identify the Afghans in Guantanamo, learn how many there are and which provinces they come from," said Sayeed Sharif Youssefi of Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation commission.

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