The U.S. Defense Department has released the names of many of the detainees at the Guantanamo detention center Friday, in compliance with a court order.
The names and nationalities of the detainees were blacked out in 5,000 pages of documents that were first published last June. They are transcripts and summaries of two types of hearings that were held at Guantanamo in 2004 and 2005. In response to a law suit by the Associated Press, a judge ordered the Defense Department to reveal the names and nationalities.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman explains why the names were originally withheld, and why the department opposed their release now. "Detainee personal information was removed from the transcript because of concern about the potential harm to detainees if the documents were made public," he said.
Whitman says the Defense Department was concerned that statements the detainees made at their hearings could result in retaliation against them or their families. "In some cases, you had detainees that had made some incriminating statements about other detainees, and about third parties back in their home countries. In others, detainees had made statements that could be taken by enemy forces as disloyal acts against them. In others, detainees indicated that they had cooperated with U.S. forces, which could be held against them by individuals in their home countries," he said.
Whitman says the decision not to appeal the court ruling was made by the U.S. Justice Department, after consulting with the Defense Department. He could not say exactly why the decision was made in spite of the Pentagon's concerns.
He also could not answer whether publication of the names will make detainees less likely to provide information in the future, but he described it as a "relevant" question. And he disputed a reporter's suggestion that the department wanted to keep the names secret in order not to let terrorist organizations know who is being held and what information they have provided.
"Particularly early on in somebody's capture, there is certainly some value in maintaining some ambiguity with respect to an individual's whereabouts. But most of these detainees at Guantanamo, as you know, have been there for an extended period of time. We're past the point of capture," he said.
Many of the Guantanamo detainees have been there for more than four years.
The transcripts that were re-published Friday cover 317 hearings at which detainees chose to appear on their own behalf. Some detainees may have been involved in two such hearings. Other detainees refused to appear at all, and although the hearings were held anyway, those transcripts have not been released.
The hearings identified 172 detainees for release or transfer to custody in their home countries, but most of them are still at Guantanamo while U.S. officials are working to make arrangements with those countries. In the latest release, six men were sent home last month, bringing the total number of detainees at Guantanamo down to 490.