Offering a glimpse into the top-secret world of Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon has released the names and home countries of many detainees who have been held at the isolated military prison for up to four years.
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press forced the US Department of Defense on Friday afternoon to turn over some 5,000 pages of transcripts from closed-door hearings on the detainees, most of whom were accused of having links to the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
While the Pentagon has not provided the full roster of detainees, the transcripts give the most detailed picture to date of who has been held at the prison on a US base in eastern Cuba, which has become the focus of international criticism in part because of the government's shroud of secrecy.
Jamie Fellner, director of the US program for Human Rights Watch, said the disclosure represents a "major breach" in that secrecy.
"It will add to our understanding of who is there and what are the reasons that the US alleges they are there for," Fellner said.
The Pentagon released the documents after a federal judge rejected arguments by the administration of US President George W. Bush that releasing names, home countries and other information would violate the detainees' privacy and could endanger them and their families.
The names are scattered throughout the transcripts of hearings, and it was unclear how many names the documents contained. In most of the transcripts, the person speaking is identified only as "detainee." Names appear only when court officials or detainees refer to people by name.
In some cases, even having the name did not clarify the identity. In one document, the tribunal president asks a detainee if his name is Jumma Jan. The detainee responds that no, his name instead is Zain Ul Abedin.
Most of the Guantanamo Bay hearings were held to determine whether or not the detainees were "enemy combatants."
That classification, Bush administration lawyers say, deprives the detainees of Geneva Conventions prisoner-of-war protections and allows them to be held indefinitely without charges.
Documents released last year -- also because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the AP -- included transcripts of 317 hearings, but had the detainees' names and nationalities blacked out. The current documents are the same ones -- this time, uncensored.
A US military spokesman in Guantanamo Bay said the Pentagon was uneasy about handing over the transcripts.
"Personal information on detainees was withheld solely to protect detainee privacy and for their own security," said Lieutenant Commander Chito Peppler. He said the defense department remains concerned that the disclosure "could result in retribution or harm to the detainees or their families."
About 490 prisoners are being held at Guantanamo Bay, but only 10 of them have been charged with a crime.