Eighteen arrive in home countries after release from Guantanamo

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Seventeen Afghans came home Tuesday in one of the biggest known releases from the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay, and one quickly accused the U.S. military of abusing him despite warnings from a senior Afghan official to keep quiet about any complaints.

A Turk suspected of ties to al-Qaida was also freed from Guantanamo and sent back to Turkey.

The releases lowered the number of detainees classified as "enemy combatants" at the U.S. Navy base on the tip of Cuba to about 520 from about 40 countries, a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Michael Shavers, said.

The detention center has drawn strong international criticism, and U.S. court rulings have chipped away Bush administration rules that denied the prisoners many legal safeguards. Some freed detainees have charged they were mistreated and tortured, and multiple investigations are looking into abuses at detention camps in Guantanamo and Afghanistan.

The detainees include suspected Taliban and al-Qaida members captured during the U.S.-led invasion toppled the repressive Taliban government in late 2001.

Cleared of suspicions

Shavers said the 17 Afghans and the Turk were cleared of suspicions of terrorist links during a tribunal review process that ended recently. Five others cleared in late March already were sent home and 15 more are awaiting transfers.

"We're always looking at opportunities to transfer additional individuals," Shavers said when asked if more releases were expected.

The Afghan men, nearly all bearded and most wearing blue-jean jackets bearing numbers on them, were handed over to Afghan authorities during a ceremony at the country's Supreme Court hours after they arrived from Cuba.

Referring to journalists gathered in the room for a news conference, Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari urged the freed men not to complain of bad treatment, warning it could jeopardize the chances for more releases.

"Don't tell these people the stories of your time in prison because the government is trying to secure the release of others, and it may harm the release of your friends," he said.

The U.S. military has released a total of 232 detainees from Guantanamo, 65 of them on the condition they continue to be held by their home governments.

Afghanistan's chief justice said the release latest release was negotiated by the Afghan and American governments and indicated more would follow.

"There are three kinds of prisoners in Guantanamo. There are those that have committed crimes and should be there, then there are people who were falsely denounced, and third there are those who are there because of the mistakes of the Americans," he said.

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