- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — At least 100 of the estimated 660 terrorism suspects held at the U.S. Naval Base prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be released within the next two months.

A military official who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity said the detainees could be released in two groups, one before Christmas and another in January.

The official stressed that military personnel posted at Guantanamo are on strict orders not to discuss “DMOs” or detainee movement operations. The coming release was reported first yesterday by Time magazine, which cited an anonymous official as saying that the release of 140 detainees could be expected.

Among the detainees to be released are three boys 16 or younger being held at a special, lower-security camp at Guantanamo called the “Iguana House.” A Guantanamo official said the youths would be transferred within the next 30 days.

The official said the juveniles had been sexually abused by Afghanistan’s Taliban regime.

The boys have been receiving psychiatric treatment while at Guantanamo because they had been “so severely abused they needed help,” he said.

Beyond suggesting that the minors fall under the same “enemy-combatant” classification as the adult detainees held at Guantanamo in the maximum security Camp Delta, the Pentagon has not been forthcoming about what crimes they have been accused of committing.

However, a military official speaking on the condition of anonymity said one of the children was captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan after he killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier.

The official said the U.S. military could not officially confirm the account, but maintained that the boy had pretended he was dead or asleep on the ground when U.S. forces encountered him during a mop-up operation after a battle in Afghanistan.

When discovered by the U.S. soldier, the boy reportedly quickly turned and shot the soldier in the temple. The official did not say where in Afghanistan or when the incident occurred.

Lt. Cmd. Christopher B. Lounderman, a spokesman for Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which is overseeing Guantanamo, would not comment yesterday.

“The Department of Defense policy has been not to comment on the transfer of detainees in or out of Guantanamo,” he said. “It falls under the category of current and future operations.”

Guantanamo has been used to hold detainees since January 2002, when U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan were at their peak. With all of the detainees having been arrested in Afghanistan, many have been held at Guantanamo for nearly two years.

Interrogations of the detainees, whose status as indefinitely held “enemy combatants” has prompted criticism from legal and human rights organizations, are ongoing, and military officials maintain that key intelligence continues to be gleaned from them.

Military officials have not denied reports that 20 detainees were released from Guantanamo and repatriated on Nov. 21 or that another 20 arrived on or about the same day. Newspaper reports during the weekend suggested that nine British citizens who are among the detainees held at Guantanamo could be repatriated by Christmas.

Speaking at a joint news conference with President Bush in London on Nov. 20, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters that officials were “in discussion” about the issue of whether the British detainees would be released.

“Either they will be tried by the military commission out there; or, alternatively they’ll be brought back here,” Mr. Blair said, adding that the issue would “be resolved soon.”

Criticism of the United States’ treatment of detainees has increased since Nov. 10, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal filed by attorneys for the British detainees, 12 Kuwaitis and two Australians held at Guantanamo. Seeking a ruling for official hearings to be held about the detainees’ status as “enemy combatants,” the appeal challenges assertions by the Bush administration that the detainees are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

Meanwhile, an Army intelligence officer became the latest to be charged with violating security measures at Guantanamo.

Col. Jack Farr was charged with failing to obey a lawful order; more specifically, “wrongfully transporting classified material without the proper security container” on or about Oct. 11, according to a statement from the U.S. Southern Command.

Two translators and a chaplain at Guantanamo previously have been charged.

A military hearing is expected to open today at Fort Benning, Ga., for Army Capt. James J. Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo. Charged with failure to obey an order, making a false official statement, conduct unbecoming an officer and one specification of adultery, Capt. Yee has not been charged with espionage.

Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad al-Halabi, who served as a translator, faces 20 charges, including four counts of espionage and one of aiding the enemy.

Another translator accused of breaching security is a civilian, Ahmad Fathy Mehalba, a U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent. He was arrested in Boston after returning from a trip to Egypt and is being held in Massachusetts pending trial in federal court.

Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the Army commander in charge of the prison camp, said during a recent interview that accusations of espionage by translators do not indicate the presence of a fifth column at Guantanamo.

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