And as recently as June 2005, he said, "If you think of the people down there, these are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield. They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, [Osama bin Laden's] bodyguards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th 9/11 hijacker."
But the Pentagon 's announcement that it would soon release 141 prisoners or about a third of those still detained at Guantanamo comes despite continuing stubborn defenses of the facility and the way interrogators have determined the status of detainees.
This is not the first time prisoners have been released from the facility. Of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the military has previously released 180 and transferred 76 to the custody of other countries.
The Pentagon says the prisoners to be released no longer represent a threat to the U.S. and have no further intelligence value.
But critics of the Bush Administration 's detention policies assert that the military doesn 't have enough on these people to try them, even before its own tribunals, which have a much lower threshold of evidence than our courts.
Gabor Rona, international legal director for Human Rights First, told IPS, "If most of these guys are not al Qaeda, i.e., are vanilla flavored civilians or mere Taliban foot soldiers, then it gives the lie to the single mantra that the administration has left when attempting to defend itself against allegations of abuse in Gitmo: that the 'terrorists ' are trained to make false allegations of abuse. "
The Los Angeles Times, which reported the latest prisoner release story, said that charges are pending against about two dozen of the remaining prisoners. But it said the chief prosecutor left unclear why the rest face neither imminent freedom nor a day in court after as many as four years in custody.
Charges have been brought against only 10 of the approximately 490 alleged "enemy combatants" currently detained at the facility. None has been charged with a capital offense.
The U.S. plans to file charges against more Guantanamo detainees and will seek the death penalty in some cases, according to the top military prosecutor at the military base. But Air Force Col. Morris Davis declined to disclose details about plans to charge about two dozen detainees in addition to the 10 already charged.
The decision to release 141 detainees is the result of a yearlong review of their cases in which interrogators also determined that they could provide no further intelligence.
Since the U.S. started sending prisoners to Guantanamo in 2002, there have been increasingly shrill allegations from a variety of international legal and human rights groups that few of those being held were "terrorists ". The Pentagon 's own files suggest that the military made numerous mistakes in sending people to Guantanamo and detaining them there without charges or trials.
Many of these Pentagon "mistakes " have been held for close to five years. Some were not captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan, but kidnapped off the streets of Europe and various locations in the Middle East. Many were "sold " to U.S. authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan for bounties. Many others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The fiercely nonpartisan National Journal magazine has reported that, "Notwithstanding Rumsfeld's description, the majority of (Guantanamo prisoners) was not caught by American soldiers on the battlefield. They came into American custody from third parties, mostly from Pakistan, some after targeted raids there, most after a dragnet for Arabs after 9/11. "
Nevertheless, all were categorized as "enemy combatants " with ties to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or other groups that support terrorism.
While observers believe the Pentagon may well have evidence that some of the prisoners at Guantanamo were Al-Qaeda operatives out to kill as many Americans as possible, in many other cases, the "evidence " is based on second, third and fourth-hand hearsay. In still others, it is clear that admissions of guilt have been obtained through cruel and inhumane interrogations that many say amount to torture.