SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – They are from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and 39 other countries. Many have been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years. Nearly all were labeled enemy combatants, but only a handful have faced formal charges.
In all, 558 people were listed in documents released by the Pentagon late Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Associated Press. They were among the first swept up in the U.S. global war on terrorism for suspected links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.
The list is the first official roster of Guantanamo detainees who passed through the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process in 2004 and 2005 to determine whether they should be deemed “enemy combatants.” It is the most extensive accounting yet of the hundreds of people held at the prison.
Some names are familiar, such as David Hicks, a Muslim from Australia charged with fighting U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. He is one of nine detainees selected to be tried by a military tribunal, on charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy to commit terrorism.
Hicks allegedly fought for the Taliban, and Australian news media have said British authorities contend he admitted undergoing training with British Islamic extremists, including Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner with a shoe bomb.
Lesser-known detainees on the list include Muhammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who reportedly was supposed to be the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Although his presence at Guantanamo had been reported, the military had previously declined to confirm it.
U.S. authorities denied al-Qahtani entry at Orlando, Fla., before the suicide hijackings.
Others on the list, such as an Afghan identified only as “Commander Chaman,” remain mysterious.
In all, the detainees on the list came from 41 countries. The largest number – 132 – came from Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan followed with 125, then Yemen with 107.
Partial, unofficial lists of Guantanamo Bay detainees have been compiled in the past by news organizations, lawyers and human rights groups. The U.S. had previously declined to release any list of names except the 10 who have been formally charged.
Even with the latest release, the Pentagon has not provided a full list of all the more than 750 prisoners that the military says have passed through Guantanamo.
The release of the list on Wednesday, ordered by a federal judge, came amid wide criticism of the almost total secrecy surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where the United States now holds about 490 detainees.
“This is information that should have been released a long time ago, and it’s a scandal that it hasn’t been,” said Bill Goodman, legal director of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which has helped coordinate legal efforts on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
The combatant status hearings at Guantanamo Bay were held from July 2004 to January 2005 after the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees had the right to contest their status before a judge or other neutral decision-maker.
All detainees at the prison during that period had such a hearing. Of the 558 detainees who received one, the panels classified 38 as “no longer enemy combatants” and the military later approved the transfer of 28 of those detainees from Guantanamo. A military spokesman said he had no information about the other 10.
The new information will help lawyers for detainees and human rights groups who have tried to monitor Guantanamo Bay, said Mark Denbeaux, a law professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey who has analyzed previous Guantanamo Bay documents released by the Pentagon.
“Lawyers have been asking for this stuff for 2 1/2 years,” he said.