Tuesday, February 21, 2006

U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Inmates at Guantanamo Bay who are campaigning for their release at the High Court in London had contact with the terrorist cell responsible for carrying out last July’s London bombings, interrogation officials at the detention camp have revealed.

U.S. officials responsible for running the camp say “dozens” of the 500 detainees currently being held at Guantanamo had previously lived or worked in Britain before their capture in Afghanistan in 2001, but are not British citizens.

Three of the detainees — who describe themselves as residents, but not citizens, in papers served at the London court — were last week given permission to seek an order for British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to campaign for their release.

But U.S. officials responsible for interrogating the suspects say the detainees had knowledge of the cell responsible for carrying out the bomb attacks on three London subway trains and a bus that killed 52 persons and wounded more than 700 others.

“After the London bombings, we got a request from British intelligence to check whether these people had any knowledge of those responsible for carrying out the attacks,” said a senior U.S. official. “We interviewed them and they were able to provide a great deal of information about the bombings, which we passed back to London.”

American officials refused to give specific details of the intelligence provided by the inmates, but said it related to the “training and organizational structure” of the terror cells responsible for carrying out the July 7 attack.

Army Maj. Gen. Jay Hood, the U.S. officer responsible for running the Guantanamo prison camp, confirmed that the British intelligence agency MI6 has made repeated requests for information about the terror attacks from Guantanamo inmates.

“We have passed the information they have provided about the London bombings to the British authorities. I believe this information has helped to prevent further attacks in [Britain],” Gen. Hood said.

U.S. officials said interrogation of the detainees continues to provide valuable information about al Qaeda’s international network. Apart from preventing attacks in London, recent intelligence has led to active al Qaeda cells being broken up in Italy and Germany in the past year.

Although human rights groups say detainees are not in a position to provide current intelligence four years after capture, Gen. Hood insists they are still providing high quality intelligence.

“It is like doing a giant mosaic, and every piece of information helps to give us a clearer picture of the threat we face in the global war on terror,” he said.

In recent weeks some of the captured al Qaeda fighters, who were in charge of Osama bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan, have begun cooperating with U.S. officials and revealing details of the terror network.

“This is a really significant breakthrough,” said a senior U.S. official at the base.

U.S. officials insist no torture methods have been used to persuade the inmates to cooperate.

“The most common method used to interrogate detainees is to sit down with them, watch a movie and eat pizza,” said the official. “You build up a relationship with them and eventually they cooperate.”

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