Weeks later, many Guantanamo prisoners remain in ID 'limbo'


Monday, February 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) _ Despite being interrogated for nearly three weeks, the majority of prisoners at this remote Navy base still haven't been identified as being either Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, a U.S. official said.

``We have more people in limbo'' than those known to be either Taliban or al-Qaida, U.S. Marine Corps Public Affairs officer Maj. Stephen Cox, said Sunday.

Investigators from civilian and military agencies have been questioning prisoners since Jan. 23, when 158 inmates were at this outpost in southeast Cuba. Flights bringing more prisoners from Afghanistan's Kandahar airport were suspended so authorities could concentrate on the ongoing interrogations.

Flights resumed last week, bringing the number of detainees to the current 220.

Camp officials said it was premature to assume most prisoners were from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network believed responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

``Many of the detainees are not forthcoming,'' Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the Marine in charge of the detention mission, said Saturday. ``Many have been interviewed as many as four times, each time providing a different name and different information.

``All that we can say with certainty is that none of these people are on our side,'' Lehnert said.

The first group of prisoners sent to Guantanamo from Afghanistan ``was determined to have the greatest intelligence value because of their positions, their standings in either the al-Qaida or Taliban,'' Cox said.

``Because of that value, they were determined to be the most dangerous _ because of the information they possessed.''

After visiting Camp X-ray two weeks ago, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said he did not believe more than 15 percent of the 158 detainees, or about 24 detainees, held then were from Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say the detainees come from 25 countries. A senior Pentagon official speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday said the detainees included about 50 Saudis, 30 Yemenis, 25 Pakistanis, eight Algerians, three Britons and small numbers from Australia, Belgium, Egypt, France, Russia and Sweden.

The official did not mention Afghans, who formed the ousted Taliban regime that harbored al-Qaida while ruling Afghanistan. While some foreigners fought for the Taliban, the majority were believed to be fighting for al-Qaida.

As reporters stood outside the barbed wire surrounding the camp of chain-link cells Sunday, three men carrying briefcases emerged from a van and entered the detention facility. Later, at least one prisoner wearing an orange jumpsuit was led to the door of a wooden interrogation hut.

``We're pretty well moving detainees throughout the day to the JIFs (Joint Interrogation Facilities), so there is a steady flow over there,'' Camp Commander Col. Terry Carrico said Sunday. ``The total number in a day, I can't really speak to, but we keep 'em busy.''

Army Pfc. Jason Ortiz, one of the soldiers standing guard during interrogations, said the questioning can last up to four hours.

Thus far, not one of the detainees he has guarded has refused to speak or resisted his questioners, he said.

``It seems to me like they're very cooperative, that they're providing the information they can,'' Ortiz said.