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US to Free 6 'Enemy Combatants' Held in Guantanamo - 2004-02-19


The Bush administration says it is moving as quickly as possible to resolve the cases of those still held as terrorist suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The State Department confirmed Thursday that six detainees, five Britons and a Danish citizen, are being turned over to legal authorities in those countries.

The pending transfer of the five Britons and the Danish citizen will bring to nearly 100 the number of Guantanamo detainees who have been released outright by the United States, or handed over to legal authorities in their countries of origin or citizenship for further examination of their cases.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made the initial announcement of Thursday's decision in London, saying that the five British subjects would be returned in the next few weeks, and that negotiations were continuing over the release of four others still held at the base in Cuba.

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials expect legal proceedings to continue in both Britain and Denmark for the six individuals being handed over.

"These two countries are among our closest allies in the fight against terrorism," he said. "We have full confidence that they will take responsibility to insure that these people do not become a threat to the United States or their own citizens. This is part of an ongoing process of making determinations and resolving as many cases as we can. We are in touch with other governments, and in discussions with some other governments, and so this is a process that you see is ongoing, which will continue."

A Pentagon spokesman said two of the four Britons who will remain in U.S. custody are among the six detainees whom President Bush recently said may face trial by a military commission.

The fate of the British detainees, who have been held without charge or trial, had become a point of contention between Washington and London, and British human rights groups said the promised turnover of the five prisoners was long overdue.

The United States still holds more than 600 people with suspected links to al-Qaida or the Taleban at the Guantanamo facility.

Most were captured in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion that followed the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington attributed to al-Qaida.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week the status of the prisoners remaining at Guantanamo would be examined individually once a year by a new review panel.