Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he has approved the release of a small number of prisoners from the terrorist detention facility the United States has built at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
Pentagon officials are providing no details on who may be released, when any release might take place or where the detainees may be sent.
But Mr. Rumsfeld says he has approved the first-ever release of a relatively small number of Guantanamo detainees who have now been fully evaluated. He says these are individuals who are no longer of any interest for either intelligence or law enforcement purposes and who are not regarded as a terrorist threat to the United States or its allies.
"There are a small number that have now been moved through that [evaluation] process and are either...I've said that's fine by me and there's kind of an inter-agency process so that the people who look at law enforcement and intelligence all have a chance to chop [comment] on it but whether it's actually happened yet or not, I don't know. But it's true that process is working and that there are some people likely to come out of the other end of the chute," he said.
The Pentagon says there are currently 598 detainees at Guantanamo, a number that has remained unchanged for weeks. They are from scores of countries. All were seized since U.S. troops moved into Afghanistan a year ago to fight Taleban and al-Qaida forces following terrorist attacks on the United States.
Defense officials say that ultimately they expect what they characterize as "numerous" detainee releases. But they say they do not want to put any such detainees at risk by publicly discussing their release or transfer to another country before such moves take place.
U.S. officials have said some detainees may face prosecution by a special American military tribunal. Others could be released to other countries for prosecution there. Still others could be held indefinitely, especially if officials fear they could pose a continuing security threat.