WASHINGTON – In a development the Bush administration had hoped to avoid, the stories of about 60 detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (search) have spilled out in court papers.
A U.S. college-educated detainee asks plaintively in one: "Is it possible to see the evidence in order to refute it?"
In another transcript, the unidentified president of a U.S. military tribunal bursts out: "I don't care about international law. I don't want to hear the words 'international law' again. We are not concerned with international law."
Expressing defiance in some instances and stoic acceptance of their fate in others, the once-nameless and still-largely faceless detainees appeared last year before tribunals that, after quick reviews, declared they were unlawful enemy combatants who could be held indefinitely.
The government is holding about 550 terrorism suspects at the Navy base in Cuba. An additional 214 have been released since the prison opened in January 2002 — some into the custody of their home governments, others freed outright.
Little information about them has been released through official channels. But stories of 60 or more are spelled out in detail in thousands of pages of transcripts filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, where lawsuits challenging their detentions have been filed.
Omar Rajab Amin (search), a Kuwaiti who graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1992, wanted to see the evidence. The tribunal president — the de facto judge for the proceeding — said he could review only unclassified evidence.
Some of the exchanges grew heated.
"You are not the master of the Earth, sir," Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, told a tribunal president.
Feroz Ali Abbasi (search) was ejected from his September hearing because he repeatedly challenged the legality of his detention.
"I have the right to speak," Abbasi said.
"No, you don't," the tribunal president replied.
The tribunal found Abbasi to have been "deeply involved" in the Al Qaeda terror network. Yet four months later, the government released him, saying his home country of Britain would keep an eye on him.
The Guantanamo detainees come from about 40 countries and were picked up mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The administration designate them as enemy combatants.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled last June that the detainees may challenge their imprisonment. The Pentagon responded nine days later by creating the tribunals and pushing through reviews of everyone at Guantanamo by year's end.
A military spokeswoman, Navy Capt. Beci Brenton, said Friday the Pentagon believes the tribunals allow for the review under the court ruling and that each detainee received "a fair opportunity to contest their detention."
Administration officials contend the prisoners are not entitled to the internationally accepted legal protections given prisoners of war.
In the filings, some detainees seemed stunned by the speed of the process.
"How long will it take before you decide the results of this tribunal?" one asked.
"We should have a decision today," the tribunal president replied.
The tribunals brought out previously unknown information regarding the war on terror.
In one proceeding, the government identified detainee Juma Mohammed Abdul Latif Al Dosari as an Al Qaeda recruiter who persuaded six Yemeni-Americans in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., to join the terrorist group.
The tribunal also disclosed that Dosari had been questioned by Saudi Arabian authorities about the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 that killed 19 members of the U.S. Air Force (search).
Several detainees told the three-member tribunals they had been mistreated or tortured. They complained about the evidence, too.
"You believe anyone that gives you any information," said detainee Mohammed Hassen, who was arrested in Pakistan. "What if that person made a mistake? Maybe that person looked at me and confused me with someone else."
The unclassified evidence against Hassen, 24, was that a senior Al Qaeda lieutenant had identified his picture as that of someone he might have seen in Afghanistan.
The tribunals also had access to classified evidence that the detainees were not allowed to see, a key reason a federal judge said in January there were constitutional problems with the tribunals. An appeals court is considering that issue.