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Some detainees express regret

©Associated Press
February 20, 2002

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE -- Some feel they were led astray in pursuit of a shortcut to heaven. Others remain steadfast in their belief that the Sept. 11 attacks were justified.

As interrogators remain tight-lipped about what they are learning from 300 prisoners of the war in Afghanistan, the person closest to their thoughts appears to be the U.S. Navy Muslim cleric caring for their spiritual welfare.

Lt. Abuhena Mohammad Saiful-Islam said some of the younger detainees have indicated to him that their local Muslim leaders might have misled them about the meaning of jihad, or holy war.

"They thought fighting is the ultimate jihad -- a short way to heaven," he said in an interview with Associated Press Television News on Monday. "They do feel somewhat that they made the wrong choice, at the wrong time."

Some Islamic groups preach that dying in a holy war guarantees a place in heaven -- the mantra of suicide bombers in Israel and that of the hijackers who flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

All the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were captured fighting with Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, which the Taliban harbored.

But not all have regrets, Saiful-Islam indicated.

Though Muslims around the world have condemned the Sept. 11 attacks, some Guantanamo detainees remain steadfast in their belief that the attacks were justly executed in the name of Islam, and trust their imprisonment will win them religious honors, the 39-year-old cleric said.

Some "feel that by being here, God will give them a reward," he said.

The first detainees arrived Jan. 11 and interrogations began Jan. 23. Camp officials have had a difficult time even identifying the prisoners, saying some have given a different name as many as four times.

Not all are Muslim, officials say. "We have a representative population of Christian detainees," said Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the Marine commanding the detention mission.

He said Muslims are given the Koran and "those that ask for a Bible, get a Bible."

Interrogators are aided by interpreters in dozens of languages who relay into English the mysteries of a worldwide terrorist network unraveling like "a sweater ... one piece at a time," Lehnert said.

He has been dismissive of Saiful-Islam's reports that some detainees have expressed regrets, saying: "That is something that can be expected of individuals who want to project themselves as being as innocent as possible."

According to Saiful-Islam, the mood at the Camp X-Ray prison is gloomier this week as Muslims around the world prepare to celebrate the holy feast of Eid al-Fadh.

"They used to have a big feast and the slaughtering of an animal. It's the first time, probably, in their life they're not going to have those things. So, there is a degree of sadness," he said.

Officials say the military is doing what it can to help the prisoners mark the day at this remote outpost on the eastern end of Cuba. Navy officials have ordered more than 120 pounds of lamb, the traditional meal, to be served in a stew after early-morning prayers Friday. Also on the menu will be dates and baklava, a sticky Middle Eastern dessert made of wheat and honey.

It will be an odd "celebration" for the men in orange jumpsuits.

Saiful-Islam expressed sympathy for children of the detainees. He said some had told him that they missed their children and that they were their families' only breadwinners.

"These people made a conscious choice to be in Afghanistan and be involved in some of the things," he said. "But the children are innocent, and they're missing their parents."

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