SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – At least 75 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for release by a task force sorting through the remaining prisoners as part of the Obama administration's effort to shutter the jail, according to a list released Monday by the U.S. military.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for the prison that now holds about 223 men, said the list written in Arabic, Pashto and English was posted in common areas throughout the isolated detention camps. It was not dated, but DeWalt said the list was posted in early September.
The list did not specifically identify the detainees who could be transferred, instead breaking down the 78 approvals by nationalities. It included two freed Uzbeks who arrived Sunday in Ireland for resettlement and a Yemeni who was returned to his homeland after being imprisoned at Guantanamo for seven years.
DeWalt said the list was a new initiative by Rear Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III, commander of the Joint Task Force that runs the remote prison at the U.S. Navy base at the southern end of Cuba, to communicate directly to the captives and deter rumors about looming transfers that have circulated through the camps.
"It's an opportunity to better inform them," DeWalt said in a phone interview. "Our current command is looking at other ways of enhancing what we're able to provide to detainees."
Taking into account the three detainees sent to Yemen and Ireland, the list of those cleared for release includes 26 prisoners from Yemen, 13 from China, nine from Tunisia, seven from Algeria, four from Syria, three each from Libya and Saudi Arabia, two each from Egypt, Kuwait, the Palestinians' West Bank territory and Uzbekistan, and one each from Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
Last week, the Obama administration said as many as eight Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay would soon leave their island prison for freedom on the Pacific island nation of Palau.
Word of that transfer came in a letter from Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan said that Palau has agreed to accept all but one of the 13 Chinese Muslims, or Uighurs, who remain at Guantanamo.
Navy Capt. John F. Murphy, the chief military prosecutor, has said there are about 65 "viable" cases for prosecution among the remaining prisoners. If any are tried it probably will have to be somewhere other than Guantanamo, which Obama has pledged to close.
Officials have not announced where the remaining prisoners could be relocated or the trials held, nor have they given a definite time frame.
Obama had hoped to close the prison by January, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that "it's going to be tough" to meet that goal.