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Detainees despair at limbo in U.S. prison

By wire services
Published March 6, 2006


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Ahamed Abdul Aziz has been in the Guantanamo Bay prison for more than three years and, by his account, has been interrogated 50 times without being charged with any crime. He waits with anguish for freedom but fears it will never come.

"We are in a grave here," he told his lawyers, echoing the despair felt by many of the roughly 490 prisoners held as suspected terrorists at the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba. Charges have been filed against only 10 of them.

Transcripts of hearings, which the Pentagon released Friday after a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press, show the frustration among prisoners waiting for the military to decide whether to charge them, transfer them or release them.

"I don't want to spend any more time here. Not one more minute," Afghan prisoner Mohammed Gul said at a combat status review tribunal.

Another unidentified Afghan man told his tribunal: "I was not a Taliban. I was not against the Americans. I want to go home."

An Afghan man, identified only as Abdul in one of the transcripts, urged U.S. military officers overseeing his tribunal to free him so he could feed his family.

The United States has released or transferred to authorities in their home countries about 270 detainees since the prison opened in January 2002, months after the U.S.-led military campaign that ousted Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime for harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida bases.

Pentagon officials say detainees can be released if a review panel determines they no longer pose a threat to the United States and have no intelligence value.

U.S. officials say the camp houses only people who want to kill American troops or civilians.

"The folks that are at Guantanamo Bay all have a valid reason for being sent here," said Army Maj. Jeffrey Weir, a prison spokesman. "Some are mainly security; others are intelligence. It's across the board."

Aziz, who is from Mauritania in West Africa, was captured in Pakistan in 2002, according to one of his lawyers, Anna Cayton-Holland. His lawyers do not know what he is accused of. "He thinks he's going to die here," said another member of his defense team, Agnieszka Fryszman.

Many detainees are accused of specific deeds, but some complain they spend years in confinement before learning the allegations.

Boudella al Hajj, an Algerian cleric who said he worked with orphans in Bosnia for a humanitarian group and the Bosnian army, was accused of being in contact with al-Qaida member Abu Zubaydah and belonging to an Algerian militant organization, among other things.

In the transcripts, he denied the allegations and asked why he had never heard them before. "I've been here for three years, been through many interrogations and no interrogator ever mentioned any of these accusations, so how did they just come now?" he said. "It's weird how this just came up now."

One tribunal member, who was not identified, later said: "We didn't realize you had never been confronted with these allegations."

[Last modified March 6, 2006, 00:58:14]


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