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Pentagon Releases Names of Guantanamo Prisoners

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Pentagon, late yesterday, released its most extensive list to date, of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The list names 558 people who've been imprisoned for suspected links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. They were among the first prisoners swept up in the early days of the U.S. war on terror. Scott Silliman has closely followed events in Guantanamo. He's executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at Duke University. Good morning.

Mr. SCOTT SILLIMAN (Executive Director, Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security, Duke University): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The government released many of the names of detainees early last month. Why were these new documents released?

Mr. SILLIMAN: Well, Renee, this current list came as a result of a Freedom of Information lawsuit that was brought by the Associated Press, so it's not a list that was voluntarily released by the Pentagon; it was ordered by a federal court judge.

MONTAGNE: Under the Freedom of Information Act?

Mr. SILLIMAN: That's correct.

MONTAGNE: So what have we learned from the list? In a way, you know, it's a simple list. But for one thing, we find out that most of the detainees are from Saudi Arabia, for starters.

Mr. SILLIMAN: That's correct. We do know that the biggest number of detainees who have gone through what's called the combatant status review tribunal process down there, came from Saudi Arabia. The next largest number, as I recall, came from Afghanistan, and then there are about 40 other--40 or 41 other countries represented, with Yemen being the third most populated country for those at Guantanamo Bay. But it gives us more information, Renee. But not all the information that, I think, either the people of the United States or the world community need to know, or want to know, about what's going on at Guantanamo Bay.

MONTAGNE: Well, there is one thing on the documents released yesterday. The name Mohammed al-Katani, who reportedly was to be the 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks. Earlier, he'd been reported detained at Guantanamo, but the military wouldn't confirm it. What is known about him?

SILLIMAN: Well, he had been suspected of being the 20th hijacker. He was detained trying to get into this country. He is the one detainee, Renee, where the human rights groups particularly, believe very coercive techniques were used against him to try to elicit information, including days of sleep deprivation and regulation of his diet. There has always been a suspicion that of all those at Guantanamo Bay, he probably received the harshest treatment.

Again, this is the first official acknowledgement that he is at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon had not acknowledged that before. But it came as a result of this lawsuit filed by the Associated Press under the FOIA.

MONTAGNE: Taken as a whole, how do the documents released yesterday add to the public's knowledge about Guantanamo Bay? I mean, such things as interrogation techniques or intelligence gathered.

SILLIMAN: Well, it doesn't tell us anything more than we already knew about that aspect about Guantanamo Bay, Renee. And again, I think the listeners need to know, that even the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process--that is actually resulting in this list--was not something that the Pentagon did on its own. Even that process came as a result of the United States Supreme Court, a year and half ago, basically saying that the detainees would have some kind of access to our federal courts. And it was only after the Supreme Court got involved that the Pentagon started these going.

There is also--were a possibility, that the detainees who have filed lawsuits, in the federal courts in the District of Columbia, might get shut out. We are waiting to see what the United States Supreme Court does in a case called Hamdan, challenging the military commissions down there. And it's possible, depending upon what the Supreme Court rules in June, that all those cases that have been filed will be dismissed because of a statute that Congress passed in December. We will have to wait and see.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

SILLIMAN: My pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Scott Silliman is executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at Duke University.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the plea of two of the detainees on that list. They had asked the Court to order their immediate release on grounds that the U.S. military determined, more than a year ago, that they were not enemy combatants.

The two are among several Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo, who pose a dilemma for the Bush administration. It says they cannot be returned to China because they would face being tortured, or even executed there. But the administration does not want them admitted to the United States. And so far, it has found no country willing to grant them asylum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.