SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – The U.S. government released the first list of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on Wednesday _ the most extensive accounting yet of the hundreds of people held there, nearly all of them labeled enemy combatants.
In all, 558 people were named in the list provided by the Pentagon in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit by The Associated Press. They were among the first swept up in the U.S. global war on terrorism for suspected links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.
The list is the first official roster of Guantanamo detainees who passed through the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process in 2004 and 2005 to determine whether they should be deemed “enemy combatants.”
Those named are from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and 39 other countries. Many have been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years. Only a handful have faced formal charges.
Some names are familiar, such as David Hicks, a Muslim from Australia charged with fighting U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. He is one of 10 detainees selected to be tried by a military tribunal, on charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy to commit terrorism.
Hicks allegedly fought for the Taliban, and Australian news media have said British authorities contend he admitted undergoing training with British Islamic extremists, including Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner with a shoe bomb.
Lesser-known detainees on the list include Muhammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who reportedly was supposed to be the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Although his presence at Guantanamo had been reported, the military had previously declined to confirm it.
U.S. authorities denied al-Qahtani entry at Orlando, Fla., before the suicide hijackings. But testimony of the trial Zacarias Moussaoui quoted an al-Qaida leader as describing al-Qahtani as the last hijacker for the mission who would “complete the group.”
In all, the detainees on the list came from 41 countries. The largest number _ 132 _ came from Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan followed with 125, then Yemen with 107.
Partial, unofficial lists of Guantanamo Bay detainees have been compiled in the past by news organizations, lawyers and human rights groups. The U.S. had previously declined to release any list of names except the 10 who have been formally charged.
Even with the latest release, the Pentagon has not provided a full list of all the more than 750 prisoners that the military says have passed through Guantanamo.
The release of the list on Wednesday, ordered by a federal judge, came amid wide criticism of the almost total secrecy surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where the United States now holds about 490 detainees.
“This is information that should have been released a long time ago, and it’s a scandal that it hasn’t been,” said Bill Goodman, legal director of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which has helped coordinate legal efforts on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
The combatant status hearings at Guantanamo Bay were held from July 2004 to January 2005 after the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees had the right to contest their status before a judge or other neutral decision-maker.