GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba, AP-Anguish. Anger. Resignation. More than 2,700 pages of documents released by the Pentagon in response to an Associated Press lawsuit are saturated with emotion from detainees held in this U.S. military base.
About 715 prisoners have passed through the cells of Guantanamo Bay on Cuba’s southeastern coast since the U.S. base began receiving men captured in Washington’s war on terror more than four years ago.
Some have divulged information that has helped Washington battle al-Qaida, which launched the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington. But, in transcripts of hearings held at Guantanamo Bay, many detainees steadfastly proclaim their innocence, saying they were wrongly swept up in Afghanistan and other locales.
“I’m a poor guy,” one Afghan detainee tells his U.S. military tribunal, according to the newly declassified documents. “I don’t know why you brought me here and make me sit here.”
“You are here because Americans thought you shot at them when they were looking for very dangerous things,” the unidentified presiding U.S. officer responded. “That is why you are here.”
“Nobody believes me so my words are nothing,” the unidentified detainee shot back, adding: “Why have I been sitting here for three years?”
At the yellow cinderblock tribunal building overlooking the deep blue waters of the Caribbean, other detainees have pleaded for freedom as U.S. military officers painstakingly tried to find holes in their stories.
“My conscience is clear,” said Algerian detainee Mohamed Nechla, who was accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia. “If I left this place my only concern would be bread on the table for my wife and children.”
The hearings — called Administrative Review Boards — were held to determine whether detainees still posed threats to the United States.
Human rights group Amnesty International, a frequent critic of U.S. policies in its war on terror, said the transcripts would most likely reveal little. But Eric Olson, the group’s acting director of government relations, said it “welcomes today’s actions, as even the seemingly minor details in these documents may help shed light on the secrecy surrounding the detainees’ cases.” Each of the detainees who faced such a review hearing was previously determined by other Guantanamo Bay panels — Combatant Status Review Tribunals — to be an “enemy combatant,” meaning they fought against the United States or its allies or provided support to Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime, al-Qaida or “associated forces.”
As in a previous release of transcripts to the AP, the names were scattered throughout the documents and many detainees weren’t identified. There was no indication whether any had been released.
One unidentified Yemeni claimed he had a hazy memory, saying he did not recall when he was captured in Pakistan more than four years ago.
“Was it cold?” asked the presiding officer, trying to determine if not the date, then the season.
“The weather was medium. It was not hot but it was not cold,” responded the detainee.
Some detainees were accused of being low-level members of the Taliban, who imposed strict Islamic rule from 1996 to 2001.
“I don’t know bin Laden and I don’t know anyone else,” said an Afghan detainee named Gano Nasorllah Hussain. “I am a butcher and I have a shop in my village.”
The transcripts released Monday were the second batch of Guantanamo Bay detainee hearings released by the Pentagon in response to the Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the AP. The Defense Department also released some 5,000 pages of transcripts on March 3.
Most of those pages were from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals. If a detainee is determined by the panel to be an “enemy combatant,” they fall under a classification that human rights groups complain is vague and confers fewer legal protections than prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.