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US: A Few Detainees ‘Got Caught Up’

March 29, 2002

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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) _ They have been called ``the worst of the worst,″ but a small number of the detainees at this military outpost could be young foot soldiers caught up in someone else’s war, U.S. military officials said Friday.

The military has been questioning the 300 detainees at Guantanamo to gain information about the terrorist network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

But the process has been difficult because it’s hard to know exactly who the men are, said Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, who oversees interrogations at Camp X-ray.

``They come to us without ID cards, they come to us without dog tags and they’re trained to be obstructionist in telling us who they are and what they’re doing,″ he said. ``Most of them are lying to us.″

As a whole, the detainees are a mysterious group. They come from 33 different countries, including some Western nations, and range widely in age and education level.

``We do have a small percentage who are people who got caught up in the excitement of the moment,″ Dunlavey said. The men probably heard a call to ``go out and fight″ and then found out ``this is a real war.″

Some are clearly more radical, including three prisoners who recently revived a hunger strike to protest their incarceration.

Others are quiet and cooperative, telling interrogators they don’t belong there. Five detainees have been diagnosed with psychosis, a mental disorder characterized by loss of contact with reality.

``It’s like a puzzle,″ said Lt. Col. William Costello, a spokesman for the joint task force’s interrogation operation.

The U.S. government has refused to identify the prisoners by nationality. But some countries with citizens at Guantanamo and a Pentagon source have indicated there are dozens of Saudis, Yemenis and Pakistanis with smaller numbers from countries including Britain, Algeria, Egypt, Australia, France, Russia, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.

While some detainees appear to be minor players in the conflict, Lt. Col. Bill Cline, the camp’s deputy commander, says they’re still a dangerous group.

``Probably some got caught up,″ he said. ``But we treat them all the same. They’re here for a reason.″

One detainee has been identified as 22-year-old Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali from Sweden. He was reportedly part of a group of 156 suspected al-Qaida fighters arrested by Pakistani authorities when fleeing the Tora Bora mountains into Pakistan.

Sweden’s security police chief, Jan Danielsson, described Ghezali more as a confused youth traveling the world looking for spiritual fulfillment rather than a terrorist.

``We have no information that indicates he’s an al-Qaida member, much less that he held a leading position,″ Danielsson said in an interview.

Swedish officials have expressed frustration that the United States isn’t more forthcoming with charges against detainees.

Dunlavey said not to feel sorry for the detainees. ``I would fail in my duty to the 3,000 people who were murdered on Sept. 11 and the 14,000 orphans that were created that day ... if I released one of those persons out there and somehow the next time I saw them they had an AK-47 in their hand,″ he said.