Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants the State Department to put more pressure on countries to take custody of some of their people who are held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, a senior defense official said Friday.
The military has transferred 65 prisoners from the prison in Cuba to their home countries, but some nations — not identified — have largely ignored American requests for transfers, officials said. The senior official described Rumsfeld’s effort, first reported Friday in The New York Times, on the condition of anonymity.
Spokesman Richard Boucher said the State Department is working with the Pentagon to identify detainees who no longer need to be held and work with other governments to ensure a smooth transfer.
Hundreds still held
Some 545 people from about 40 countries are held at Guantanamo Bay, many of them prisoners from the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Already, the military has released 211 detainees from Guantanamo, including 146 who were freed outright.
“We’ve said all along that we are committed to transferring detainees when we are able to determine that they no longer pose a threat to our nation, they are of no further intelligence value, and do not merit criminal prosecution,” said Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman, on Friday.
Of the 65 detainees transferred for further detention or prosecution, 29 have gone to Pakistan, nine to the United Kingdom, seven to Russia, six to France, five to Morocco, four to Saudi Arabia and one each to five other countries.
In making these transfers, the U.S. government sets conditions, such as requiring that the detainee be held by their home country, and, in some cases, seeking protections regarding their treatment while in prison there.
Boucher said that the department has a policy to “not transfer a person to a country if we determine that it is more likely than not” that the prisoner will be tortured.
Not all detainees at Guantanamo are eligible for transfer, officials said. Some, if freed, would remain a threat to U.S. interests, and several already freed from Guantanamo have returned to terrorist groups, officials said.
Some are also still supplying useful intelligence to interrogators, officials said.
The status of the detainees at Guantanamo has been in question since the U.S. military began holding detainees there in 2002.
U.S. courts, over the objections of the Bush administration, have found the detainees may challenge their incarcerations before a judge.
The government has argued that the detainees are enemy combatants — a classification that includes anyone who supported Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terrorist network — and are not entitled to the same legal protections as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, nor are they entitled to protections provided to other foreigners held on U.S. soil.
Still, the military has instituted several review procedures at Guantanamo to examine whether each detainee is still properly held. Some detainees have been ordered freed under these procedures.