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Revealed: the nationalities of Guantanamo

By JOHN C. K. DALY, International Correspondent   |   Feb. 4, 2004 at 5:42 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- At least 160 of the 650 detainees acknowledged by the Pentagon being held at the United States military base at Guantanamo, Cuba -- almost a quarter of the total -- are from Saudi Arabia, a special UPI survey can reveal.

In UPI's groundbreaking and detailed breakdown of the nationalities of the detainees, some arrested far from the 2001 battlefield of Afghanistan, the other top nationalities being held are Yemen with 85, Pakistan with 82, Jordan and Egypt, each with 30.

Afghans are the fourth largest nationality with 80 detainees, according to the detailed UPI survey that has now for the first time established the homelands of 95 percent of the total number of prisoners.

One member of the Bahraini royal family is among those detained, according to his lawyer Najeeb al-Nauimi of Doha, Qatar, who was Qatar's 1995-97 justice minister and has power of attorney from the parents of about 70 prisoners.

The Pentagon's own list of nationalities detained at Guantanamo may be flawed. Yemeni officials have told UPI they fear more than twice as many of their citizens are held than the Pentagon count.

Suspected terrorists are detained by U.S. forces at a number of points around the world, including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Bagram air force base outside Kabul. But Camp Delta, the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo, has attracted the most media attention and international protest.

Camp Delta was built at a cost of $9.7 million by Brown and Root Services, a subsidiary of Haliburton by contract workers from India and the Philippines. Camp Delta replaces Camp X-Ray, the first improvised detention center constructed in January 2002 to house individuals detained in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has kept a very tight lid on material about the detainees; only the identities of those who choose to correspond via the Red Cross are known. The Defense Department has repeatedly declined to provide a breakdown of the detainees by nationality.

Sources close to the Pentagon have admitted to UPI that "sensitive diplomatic considerations" were behind the decision to keep the nationalities secret.

The large number of Saudi nationals at Guantanamo, now it has been made public, is likely to intensify concern in the U.S. Congress about the real state of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

A DoD spokesperson told UPI Wednesday "such a list exists, but it is classified."

Drawing on a wide range of sources, UPI has tentatively determined the nationalities of 619 of Camp Delta's inmates from 38 countries.

Until the U.S. government is more forthcoming with information, the figures below remain incomplete.

Complicating the issue is the sporadic release of a number of detainees; in the wake of last week's release of three teenagers, another 87 detainees have been transferred pending release. In addition, four detained Saudis have been transferred to continue their imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.

There is a rough correlation between nations subjected to terrorism and the number of their citizens incarcerated in Guantanamo. That Camp Delta currently holds 80 or more Afghans is hardly surprising, as most of the detainees were captured there. However, Camp Delta also holds seven Arab men handed over to U.S. authorities in Bosnia, as well as five individuals arrested in Malawi last summer.

The magnitude of the Saudi presence in Camp Delta raises troubling questions about their presence in Afghanistan and whether the U.S. forces succeeded in capturing more than a fraction of those who might have been there.

Emphasizing the global metastasizing of terrorism, among the 85 Yemenis is an individual arrested in Sarajevo.

Yahya Alshawkani, Yemeni Embassy deputy chief of communication in Washington told UPI that his embassy kept in close touch with the U.S. authorities -- but questioned the accuracy of the Pentagon's own count. His government cites domestic reports that more than twice as many Yemenis were held as the Pentagon has told the Yemeni government.

When queried if the number 85 was accurate, Alshawkani replied, "We have been communicated 37 names by United States authorities. I think it is more than 37. Domestic reports indicate more than 70."

Asked to comment on the discrepancy Alshawkani said: "We were communicated names that they were sure that they were Yemenis, adding, "Perhaps the U.S. only passed on names of people they could positively identify." Alshawkani remarked that Yemen had already had "some preliminary discussion" about the Yemeni detainees; furthermore, "We were told some Yemenis would be released, but we are not sure how many."

Jordan, a close ally of the U.S. in its war on terror, has 30 of its citizens detained in Camp Delta, as does Egypt. Jordan has worked closely with the U.S. in the initial processing of prisoners, providing both interrogators and interpreters.

Morocco, site of an al-Qaida attack on a synagogue in April 2002 that killed 21 people, has 18 of its nationals in Guantanamo. Algeria, currently in the throes of a violent conflict between Islamists and the government, has 19 prisoners in Camp Delta, six of whom were arrested in Sarajevo.

Kuwait, liberated from Saddam Hussein by Operation Desert Storm in 1991 has 12 citizens in Guantanamo; the Kuwaiti government insists that all of its citizen were involved in charity and relief work. China also has at least 12 its citizens in Guantanamo, although they are all identified as ethnic Uighurs rather than Han Chinese. Next on the list are Tajikistan and Turkey with 11 citizens each. Tajikistan fought a bloody civil war in the aftermath of the collapse of communism in 1991 and fundamentalists maintain a strong presence there. Turkey last November was subjected to al-Qaida bombing attacks in Istanbul, which killed 62 people.

Nine British citizens of Muslim background are in Guantanamo; they have proven to be a political liability for Prime Minister Tony Blair, as calls have been made in Parliament for their repatriation.

Both Tunisia and Russia have eight of their nationals at Camp Delta; a Russian embassy spokesman was careful to point out however that the eight Russian citizens are not ethnic Russians. Rustam Akmerov, Ravil Gumarov, Timur Ishmuradov, Shamil Khadzhiev (originally identified as Almaz Sharipov), Rasul Kudaev, Ravil Mingazov, Ruslan Odigov and Airat Vakhitov are members of Russia's Muslim community. The Russian embassy nonetheless is quietly pursuing negotiations with Washington to extradite its citizens.

France and Bahrain both have seven each of their nationals at Gauntanamo. Highlighting the problems of identification, France only recently discovered its seventh national at Camp Delta. The Bahraini detainees include a member of the royal family.

Kazakhstan has been quietly lobbying Washington for the return of its citizens, as have Australia (2) and Canada (2.) Australian David Hicks is one of the most high profile prisoners in Camp Delta; a convert to Islam, Hicks fought as a jihadi in the Balkans before shipping out to Afghanistan.

There are reportedly at least two Chechens, two Uzbeks and two Syrians in Camp Delta. The Syrian detainees especially interest U.S. intelligence, as one of the four workers at Camp Delta under investigation for possibly aiding the prisoners, Air Force translator Senior Airman Ahmad al-Halabi is accused of trying to pass messages from the prisoners to Syria. There are also two Georgian and two Sudanese nationals in Guantanamo.

Bangladesh, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Qatar, Spain and Sweden all have a single citizen in Camp Delta.

The UPI survey was conducted by painstaking compilation and analysis of the press and media reports from countries all around the world along with interviews with foreign government officials and concludes that nationalities of 38 separate countries are represented in the U.S. military detention center.

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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