WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon won’t say how many prisoners it holds at the U.S. jail for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The State Department won’t estimate the prospects that other nations will take inmates home and deal with them themselves.
Two years after a U.S.-led coalition began capturing suspects in the war on terror, international impatience is growing over the pace of progress at Guantanamo.
“The word that occurs to me is stalled. It has stalled,” Amnesty International‘s Alistair Hodgett said.
Diplomats of countries whose citizens are being held suggest U.S. officials have been sidetracked by their own problem – an investigation of possible espionage by prison staff at the U.S. Navy facility.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross says the mental health of a large number of inmates is deteriorating. The organization didn’t give numbers, nor does the Pentagon, saying only there are “about 660” inmates.
Senior U.S. officials deny progress is stalled. They say authorities are working quickly to determine which prisoners will be prosecuted in U.S. military tribunals and who will be released, held indefinitely or sent to their own countries for trial or continued detention.
President Bush has said his administration is talking with several countries. The effort is being expedited, but the public is unaware of it, according to one official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Six months ago, authorities appeared to be making strides.
Dozens of cases were resolved after Secretary of State Colin Powell complained to the Defense Department that allies were being alienated over the long detentions of their citizens, without charges or benefit of lawyers. From May to early July, 40 detainees were freed, most to Afghanistan. In addition, four Saudis went home for continued detention.
Despite a statement in August that three juveniles would be recommended for release “very soon,” they remain imprisoned. There are no other cases known to have been resolved in nearly three months.
In July, Bush announced he’d chosen six possible candidates for military tribunals. But the trials were put on hold almost immediately when Britain sought negotiations on tribunal rules, written by the Pentagon and decried as unfair by U.S. friends and critics alike.
The prisoners come from some 40 countries, and several foreign governments have said publicly that they’re willing to take their citizens home to prosecute. Some say they’re pressing to resolve the cases, but what that means is unclear since few give details about talks with Washington.
Legal experts say repatriation is turning out to be difficult. They say the United States will have a hard time sending many detainees back to their home countries because they don’t have laws under which to prosecute the men, mostly said to be al-Qaida and Taliban foot soldiers. The long detentions and repeated interrogations without attorneys will make trials impossible in some places as well, lawyers say.
American and Afghan forces began capturing prisoners shortly after the war against al-Qaida started in Afghanistan in October 2001. They began transferring them to Guantanamo in January 2002.
The detainees are questioned for information on any future terrorist attacks. Releases are possible for those whom officials decide won’t be prosecuted, those no longer a threat and those no longer useful for intelligence, officials have said.
Officials complained last year that it took months to make headway in interrogations because of prisoner stonewalling and deception.
Cases are being reviewed by agencies including the Justice and State departments, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services – each with its own interests.
In addition, the espionage investigation, which involved the arrests of two translators, forced U.S. officials to review past interrogations for fear they may have been tainted.
Human rights groups said they want the prisoners tried or released. They said they also want inmates told when to expect some decisions.
And the Red Cross took the unusual step in recent months of publicly airing its concerns.
“After more than eighteen months of captivity, the internees still have no idea about their fate, and no means of recourse through any legal mechanism,” the Red Cross said.