WASHINGTON - Three years after the United States opened its prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, 65 detainees have been handed over to their home countries but none has been convicted of any crime.
About one-third of the 65 detainees whom the Pentagon sent to other governments have been released and the rest are awaiting trial or still in detention without charge.
Lawyers, officials and judicial sources in 10 countries where terrorism suspects were sent by the United States from its military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, said they knew of no convictions yet among those transferred, although several trials are pending in countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
"What is clear to me is that my government is unable to charge them here and when they go abroad, there is not a shred of evidence to charge them there either. It looks like they got the wrong people," said Michael Ratner, an attorney for several Guantanamo detainees.
However, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico said intelligence gleaned at Guantanamo Bay was key in preventing further terrorist attacks against the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.
Since detainees captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere by U.S. forces were sent to Cuba in January 2002, the Pentagon says it has freed 146 detainees and sent 65 others to the custody of Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Australia, France, Russia and Morocco.
About 545 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay and one defense official told Reuters there was pressure inside the Bush administration to get more foreign governments to take over detainees from their countries,
Plexico said the United States did not track what happened to transferred detainees who were the responsibility of their own governments. But he said there was some risk in releasing prisoners and 12 were known to have "returned to the fight."
About half of the 65 handed over to other countries were moved to Pakistan, which is holding them under that country's security laws, said Atif Ali Khan, a Pakistani lawyer representing 34 ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees.
DETAINEES COMPLAIN ABOUT TREATMENT
Khan said no charges had been filed against his clients, most of whom were being held at Adiala prison in Rawalpindi.
"They have been assured time and again they will be released soon, but nothing has happened," said Khan in a telephone interview from Pakistan. "I think there is U.S. ressure to keep them inside."
Khan said he got special permission from the Pakistani government to visit the detainees, who complained of poor medical care and a shortage of water and food. "They were taken care of better in Guantanamo Bay," he said.
Human rights groups are concerned some foreign governments will use the chance to torture detainees sent to their custody but President Bush insisted at a news conference on Wednesday that the U.S. safeguarded against this.
"We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country," said Bush.
The U.S. government, led by State Department negotiators, sets conditions for transfer with foreign governments, including, in some cases, protections for the treatment of detainees.
Most of the Guantanamo detainees sent to European countries have been freed, with only a few possible cases pending, such as in France where two are being held after returning this month.
None of the nine suspects sent to Great Britain have been prosecuted there. All were questioned by anti-terrorism police and then released. Four have been refused passports.
The one Swedish detainee, Mehdi Ghezali, was freed in July 2004 and no action taken against him at home. Spain has also released its detainee.
Five Moroccans were handed over in August and are still being tried on terrorism charges by a court in Rabat. In Saudi Arabia, five Guantanamo Bay detainees are still being held. In Kuwait, one detainee sent from Guantanamo is in state security police custody.
Seven Russians were released four months after their return. Australian Mamdouh Habib has also been freed but authorities have him under close surveillance. (Additional reporting by Reuters reporters in Kuwait, Madrid, Paris, London, Rabat, Canberra, Islamabad, Riyadh, Stockholm and Moscow)