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Some al-Qaida Prisoners Express Regret - 2002-02-04


A Muslim U.S. Navy chaplain, attending to the spiritual needs of 158 Taleban and al-Qaida members held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, says many detainees claim they have no idea why they are being kept far from home, while some express regret for what they have done. The imam spoke with reporters at the U.S. naval base Sunday.

Lt. Abuhena Saiful-Islam visits with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay every day. Based on his interaction with them, he says many do not appear to grasp the full horror of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington that launched America into war against terrorism.

Others, he says, have begun to reflect on their actions while in Afghanistan and, as he puts it, "where they went wrong." "The say they do not want to fight America. They want a resolution [of their situation] whatever way it turns out to be," he says. "And some of them believe they are innocent, and they want to go home."

The Muslim chaplain, who was born in Bangladesh, says his impression is that many detainees were misled by their superiors in the Taleban or al-Qaida chain of command, or misinformed about their organizations' goals and methods.

Despite what the detainees tell the chaplain, the chief U.S. spokesman at Guantanamo Bay, Major Steve Cox, says they are anything but benign. "They are dangerous people. Many have stated their intention to do harm to U.S. service members if given the opportunity. Some have demonstrated their propensity for violence by their past actions," says Mr. Cox. "While we are treating them humanely, we are treating them firmly and fairly, none of us have forgotten that these are dangerous people and I would not want anyone else to forget that these are dangerous people."

Major Cox says interrogations of the detainees have yielded valuable information. "It is reasonable to say that some of the detainees have provided information that is useful to not just the United States, but [also] to other countries around the world in the war on terrorism."

The major declined to comment on any specific information gleaned from the interrogation sessions, which are on-going.

For the first time, reporters at Guantanamo were allowed inside a field hospital ward where seven detainees were being treated for a variety of ailments and wounds suffered in Afghanistan. Sunday, reporters saw the detainees resting on stretcher-like cots, restrained with handcuffs. Military doctors and nurses were in attendance, while guards kept a close eye on the detainees.

Members of the medical staff say they treat the detainees just as they would any patients, except for taking security precautions.

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