Guantanamo detainees despair of ever leaving U.S. military prison

Monday, 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 attorneys, 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.

"I don't know what they have to eat," he said.

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 in its war on terrorism.

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

Aziz, who is from Mauritania in West Africa, was captured in Pakistan in 2002, according to one of his attorneys, Anna Cayton-Holland. His attorneys 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.

With some Bush administration officials now referring to the war against terrorism as the "long war," Guantanamo appears to be turning into a more permanent detention site.

A two-story prison building that can house 200 detainees is slated to open this summer. It is modeled after a mainland maximum-security prison and will be located near a similar facility that can house 100 detainees.

"It's becoming clear that we will need to continue to house some number of detainees for an extended period," said a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Michael Shavers.

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