US officer predicts Guantánamo releases





By Mark Huband, recently in Guantánamo Bay

Financial Times, 4 October 2004

Most of the prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay, the US military base on Cuba, are expected to be released or transferred to their own countries, the deputy commander of the unit that runs the base has said.

The US military is currently holding 550 alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters at the base.

Of these, 15 are facing military trials. The rest face tribunals, as ordered by the US Supreme Court, to decide whether the detainees were correctly designated as “enemy combatants”.

Some 200 detainees have been released since the first prisoners arrived at the base in early 2002. But Brig Gen Martin Lucenti, deputy commander of the joint task force that controls the base- including its legal proceedings – has said he expects most will be freed or extradited.

“Of the 550 that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries,” he told the FT.

“Most of these guys weren’t fighting. They were running. Even if somebody has been found to be an enemy combatant, many of them will be released because they will be of low intelligence value and low threat status.

“We don’t have a level of evidence to feel that we can be confident to prosecute them [all]. We have guys here who have never told us anything, except to say that they want to cut off the heads of the infidels if they get a chance,” Gen Lucenti added.

However, Brig Gen Jay Hood, commander of the task force that runs the camps, qualified this assessment, saying some “people here are of tremendous intelligence value”, and the US still has much to learn from them.

A Pentagon spokesman said on Monday that the Defense Department would not put a figure on the number that it expected to be released.

“The view within the DoD is that we are not going to hold anybody any longer than is necessary. But I wouldn’t make a blanket statement about how many will be released,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

The indefinite detention of the Guantánamo prisoners- who come from 42 countries and were detained in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other states – has been condemned by lawyers and human-rights organisations.

The military authorities maintain they are unlikely to release any of the prisoners if they are still believed to be of intelligence value or a continued threat.

“The release of prisoners is dependent on them being considered low threat and whether they remain beneficial as intelligence sources,” Gen. Lucenti said.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.