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The World

Many Held at Guantanamo Not Likely Terrorists

Dozens of detainees pose no real threat, but U.S. policies make it nearly impossible to get names off lists. There's also fear of freeing '21st hijacker.'

December 22, 2002|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

"The same people who created this huge bureaucratic monster came up with a way to thwart it," one Army interrogator said, "which is never enter people into the system."

At Guantanamo Bay, the presence of dozens of low-value prisoners drained resources. The facility, known as Camp Delta, was also plagued by other problems.

A chronic shortage of military police meant interrogations were shut down at 9 p.m., sources said, denying interrogators the often effective tactic of subjecting detainees to marathon interview sessions.

There was also a confusing command structure that hampered information sharing. Guantanamo Bay was controlled by the Southern Command -- whose territory includes South America -- even though the war on Al Qaeda was principally the purview of the U.S. Central Command.

Intelligence reports often got tied up in transit between the two commands, sources said, sometimes delaying delivery for days. And intelligence officers at Southern Command who edited reports out of Guantanamo Bay knew far more about Colombian rebels than Al Qaeda terrorists.

The White House has classified prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as "enemy combatants," a murky status in which detainees are not allowed hearings or legal representation.

In July, a federal judge considering a lawsuit filed on behalf of 14 Kuwaiti detainees ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have no right to appear in U.S. courts and can be held indefinitely.

In March, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged that the prison population at Guantanamo Bay went beyond the "hard-core" cases for which it was constructed.

"The first people who were brought down were the hardest of the hard-core," Rumsfeld said. "Now it is a mix. They run pretty much across the spectrum.... Some may be transferred to other countries, some may be released, some may be held for the duration, some may be tried in one or more of the various mechanisms that are available."

But nine months after Rumsfeld's comments, only five prisoners have been released from a population that totals about 625 and represents 43 nations.

The first prisoner released, in April, was so mentally unstable he was known by interrogators as "Wild Bill."

"He would eat his own feces, dump fresh water from his canteen and urinate in it and drink it," the senior interrogator said. CIA, FBI and psychiatric experts "concluded he was insane."

Four others were released at the end of October, including three Afghans and one Pakistani. Among them were one low-level Taliban conscript and two men who appeared to be in their 70s and said they had never served the Taliban.

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