In April The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon has cleared more than 20 percent of the inmates held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp of all charges. So why are they still in prison? One problem: Many of the inmates come from countries with a history of human rights violations—Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan, for example —and risk persecution upon their return. The United States has nowhere to send them.
Seventeen inmates are members of the Uighur Muslim separatist minority in China’s Xinjiang province and face imprisonment or worse if returned to China. Five Uighurs were released in January 2007 after four years at Guantanamo because the U.S. was able to negotiate an asylum arrangement with Albania. But other countries won’t offer the Uighurs asylum for fear of angering the Chinese government.
U.S. officials are having an increasingly difficult time finding countries willing to grant asylum to the other Guantanamo inmates cleared of charges. Nor will they release them to the United States, since many of the inmates have (or are suspected to have) some loose connection to a terrorist network.
In May 2003, Guantanamo held 680 prisoners, the highest number to date. About half have since been released. The Bush administration has claimed the prisoners at the camp represent the “worst of the worst” terrorist threats to the U.S. But when the Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux and the defense attorney Joshua Denbeaux analyzed information supplied by the Defense Department, they found that less than half the inmates were determined to have committed a hostile act against the United States or its allies. Only 8 percent are suspected to be Al Qaeda fighters.
Of the 385 still held at Guantanamo, the Pentagon plans to formally charge 60 to 80. To date, just two have been tried by a military tribunal, and only one, Australian David Hicks, has been convicted. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, which he was allowed to serve in Australia.