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Fighting Terror

Some Gitmo inmates to be freed

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 6, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is preparing to release a dozen or more prisoners from the high-security compound for terrorist suspects in Cuba.

Some 660 prisoners from 42 countries are held at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, many captured during the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Officials have declined to identify them or their countries or say exactly how many are held.

The Associated Press cited an official it did not identify as saying Monday that he believed juveniles were among those to be released. Reports that several boys between the ages of 13 and 16 were among the prisoners have drawn criticism from human rights groups.

One official said 20 to 30 prisoners would be released; another said the number was 12 to 15.

Defense Department officials denied that the release was the result of a complaint by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has pressed the Pentagon to move faster in determining the fate of the prisoners at Guantanamo, some of whom have been held a year and a half without charges or access to lawyers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

In what officials have said was a strongly worded letter, Powell told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that eight allies had complained about the holding of their citizens. He said the situation was undermining efforts to win international cooperation in the war on terror.

The AP, again citing an official it did not name, said that juveniles had been among those planned for release weeks ago but that it was logistically difficult to fly them out of Cuba during the war against Iraq.

Officials have said that some prisoners could be released to their countries if it was certain those countries would deal with them properly. Talks have been under way with various countries but no results have been announced.

Countries that have said publicly they want their citizens home include Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Pakistan. Officials said they didn't know the home countries of the prisoners to be released.

Since the prison was opened in January 2002, 23 people are known to have been released. They were all men, including one who was mentally ill and another reported to be in his 70s.

Asked Sunday about the prisoners, Rumsfeld said they must be questioned by several government agencies before they can be released. The defense secretary said that he, too, would like to see the process move more quickly.

Pentagon officials said Friday that they had finished writing rules for trying terrorist suspects in military tribunals. They offered no number of trials planned, nor the date they might start.

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