War prisoners may be released soon

Saturday, January 26, 2002

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Many of the Afghan war detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay will likely be returned to their homelands, a U.S. senator said Friday.

The 158 detainees come from 25 countries, Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert told reporters without identifying the nations. Previously, officials said detainees at this U.S. military outpost were from 10 countries.

Of the al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, "many of them will likely be sent home," said Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who was part of a delegation of eight representatives and three senators that visited the detention center on Cuba on Friday.

Inhofe said some detainees would be sent home after investigators complete interrogations that began Wednesday. The detainees have not been allowed lawyers.

Officials would not say how long the interrogations might last. It also was unclear whether the United States would demand that detainees be returned on condition they be put on trial at home. U.S. lawmakers have said they consider the detained fighters a danger to society who would kill again if set free.

The visiting legislators said they hoped the questioning was yielding useful intelligence for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

But Republican Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana said the interrogators, from several U.S. civilian and military agencies, first were trying to work out which captives should be sent home and which should be held.

He said the information being gathered would not be used for prosecutions. Other lawmakers declined to say whether the United States was getting answers to key questions about terrorist training or the whereabouts of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Lawmakers' bus trip

In a dramatic scene, the U.S. delegation was driven on white buses into Camp X-ray, the detention camp fortified by three layers of fences topped by razor wire and patrolled by attack dogs.

When they got out, at the open-air cells of chain-link fence walls topped by a corrugated iron roof, officials pointed out the Australian inmate as one the military has said threatened to kill an American, according to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.

She said there was no communication with the Australian, and that he appeared "docile" like other detainees. She said they were reading the Quran, Islam's holy book, and had towels over their heads -- apparently in place of the turbans to which they are accustomed.

"Some pretended that we weren't there, but I think that we were all giving them the evil eye," Ros-Lehtinen said.

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