Monday, October 18, 2004


At least seven former prisoners of the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have returned to terrorism, despite gaining their freedom by signing pledges to renounce violence.

At least two are believed to have died in fighting in Afghanistan, and a third was recaptured during a raid on a suspected training camp in Afghanistan, said Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman. Others are at large.

Additional former detainees have expressed a desire to rejoin the fight, be it against U.N. peacekeepers in Afghanistan, Americans in Iraq or Russians in Chechnya.

U.S. officials released 146 detainees from Guantanamo, but only after determining the prisoners no longer posed threats and had no remaining intelligence value.

Pentagon officials acknowledged that the release process is imperfect, but they said most of the Guantanamo detainees released have steered clear of Islamist insurgent groups.

The number returning to the fight demonstrates the delicate balance the United States must strike between minimizing the appearance of holding people unjustly and keeping those who are legitimate long-term threats, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Human rights groups frequently criticize the Defense Department for holding hundreds of prisoners at the naval base, largely without charges or legal counsel. Many have been held for more than two years; only a few have been charged.

Another 57 Guantanamo prisoners have been transferred to the custody of their home governments, including 29 to Pakistan, seven to Russia, five each to Morocco, and four each to France and Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon did not identify the seven detainees believed to have returned to fighting, although a few names have been made public. One released detainee killed a judge leaving a mosque in Afghanistan, Cmdr. Plexico said.

The former prisoners who returned to terrorism include Abdullah Mehsud, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee linked to al Qaeda who oversaw the recent kidnapping of two Chinese engineers, one of whom was killed.

On Friday, Pakistani soldiers began a massive search for Mehsud, 28, who returned to Pakistan in March after about two years’ detention at Guantanamo. Pakistan officials say he has forged ties with al Qaeda since then.

One of the two former prisoners killed is Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar, a senior Taliban commander in northern Afghanistan who was arrested about two months after a U.S.-led coalition drove the militia from power in late 2001.

He was held at Guantanamo for eight months, then released, and was killed on Sept. 26 by Afghan security forces during a raid in Uruzgan province. Afghan leaders said they believed he was leading Taliban forces in the southern province.

Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the No. 2 commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, told the Associated Press this month that there was no alternative to releasing prisoners.

“It’s not going to be perfect, so [the Ghaffar case] has not led to any soul-searching about the release program,” Gen. Olson said.

Other former prisoners have said publicly that they wanted to return to the fight.

In Denmark, Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, 31, who was released in February from the U.S. naval base on Cuba’s southeastern tip, said he would go to Chechnya to fight with rebels there against Russia.

“The Muslims are oppressed in Chechnya, and the Russians are carrying out terror against them,” the Dane, who has an Algerian father, told Danish television in September.

Abderrahmane, who was never charged in Denmark upon his return, later backtracked.

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