US NAVAL BASE, GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- After four years of secrecy, the Pentagon handed over documents yesterday that contain the names of detainees held at the US military prison at Guantanamo. The release resulted from a victory by the Associated Press in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The Bush administration had hidden the identities, home countries, and other information about the men accused of taking up arms against the United States. But a federal judge rejected the administration's arguments that releasing the identities would violate the detainees' privacy and could endanger them and their families.
The names were scattered throughout more than 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at Guantanamo Bay. The names were given only in the testimony -- when court officials referred to them by name in their remarks or when one detainee spoke of another detainee by name. The documents themselves did not identify each detainee who testified.
In some cases, even having the name didn't clarify the identity. In one document, the tribunal president asks a detainee whether his name is Jumma Jan. The detainee responds that no, his name is Zain Ul Abedin.
Zahir Shah, an Afghan accused of being a member of an Islamic militant group and of having a grenade launcher and other weapons in his house, admitted to having rifles. He said it was for protection, and insisted that he did not fight US troops.
''The only thing I did in Afghanistan was farming. Other than that, I did not do anything else in the country," Shah said, according to the transcripts.
The documents also contain the names of former prisoners, such as Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, both British citizens. A handwritten note has Abbasi pleading for prisoner-of-war status.
The status of other named detainees, such as Naibullah Darwaish, was not immediately clear. Darwaish was described as having been the chief of police for the Shinkai district in Zabol Province, Afghanistan, when he was captured.
Most of the men were captured during the 2001 US-led war that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and sent Osama bin Laden deeper into hiding.
Most of the Guantanamo hearings were held to determine whether the detainees were enemy combatants. That classification, Bush administration lawyers say, deprives the detainees of prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions and allows them to be held indefinitely without charges.
Documents released last year -- also because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit -- had the detainees' names and nationalities blacked out.
The documents, transcripts from at least 317 hearings at Guantanamo Bay, may shed light on the scope of an insurgency still battling US troops in Afghanistan, in part by detailing how Muslims from many countries wound up fighting alongside the Taliban.
Some current and former Guantanamo detainees remained unidentified, even after the release of the documents. An unknown number of the named prisoners have been freed or transferred to custody elsewhere.
The AP has also filed a suit seeking a list of all detainees who are being held or have been held at the prison.
''This is extremely important information," said Curt Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA. ''We've been asking ever since the camp opened for a list of everyone there as one of the most basic first steps for any detaining authority."
Human rights monitors say keeping identities of prisoners secret can lead to abuses and deprive their families of information about their fate.
The United States, which opened the prison on its Navy base in eastern Cuba in January 2002, now holds about 490 prisoners at Guantanamo. Only 10 have been charged with crimes.
Neal Sonnett, chairman of the American Bar Association's task force on enemy combatants, said he hopes the documents will help focus attention on the conditions for the detainees and the way the hearings were handled.
The documents released yesterday were unedited transcripts of the hearings.
''Perhaps even more important than just the identities of the detainees are the unedited transcripts of the hearings, which I think will reveal a lot about the way in which the detainees have been treated and the way in which their status has been determined," Sonnett said. He was at Guantanamo to observe pretrial hearings for two detainees charged with crimes.
The Defense Department had argued that releasing the identities of detainees could subject their families, friends, and associates to embarrassment and retaliation.
But US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York said the relatives and others ''never had any reasonable expectation" of anonymity. Yesterday was the deadline he set for the release of the material.