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Diverse Group of Detainees at Guantanamo
123 Fargo/AP
May 16, 2006

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- He has a flowing white beard, can't hear or see very well and, according to his lawyer, uses a walker to hobble around the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Haji Nasrat Khan is the oldest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, according to a newly released list of all those who have been held at the isolated prison on a U.S. Navy base in southeastern Cuba, perched above the Caribbean Sea.

Khan, an Afghan who the military says is 71 but may be several years older, exemplifies the striking diversity of Guantanamo detainees past and present as identified by the list, which the Pentagon released Monday to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

"I met him one time and came out of there thinking, 'Why is this old man here?'" said Peter Ryan, a lawyer whose firm represents Khan and 14 other Afghans at Guantanamo.

The list provides the first full official accounting of all those who have been held by the military in Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. The document provides the names, hometowns and dates of birth of 759 current and former detainees.

They range from teenagers to an Afghan, now released, who was nearly 90 and was reportedly referred to as "al-Qaida Claus," by interrogators. Their hometowns are from all over - including the holy Muslim city of Mecca; Lyon, France; and Baton Rouge, La.

The military now holds about 480 detainees at Guantanamo following a series of releases and transfers that began in October 2002, nearly 10 months after the detention center opened.

An additional 136 detainees have been approved for transfer or release, but the timing depends on when their home countries agree to accept them and whether they can assure the U.S. the men will be treated humanely, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.

"This has proven to be a complex and time-consuming process," he said.

The Pentagon list does not say whether detainees were released or transferred. But the information is available from other sources, including news reports and a comparison of the list released Monday with a roster released last month.

Among those who had left were Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and taken to Guantanamo, where U.S. authorities discovered he was born in Louisiana and was therefore an American citizen. He was transferred to a military brig in South Carolina.

Hamdi was released to his family in Saudi Arabia in October 2004 after the Justice Department said he no longer posed a threat to the United States and no longer had any intelligence value. As a condition of his release, he gave up U.S. citizenship.

Two Afghans who were under 18 when they arrived are no longer at the detention center, while a third who was still there in the summer of 2004 would no longer be a minor. Peppler said there now is no one under 18 at the camp.

Khan's defense lawyer said he doesn't know if the elderly Afghan is among the 136 who are slated for release or transfer. He is at Guantanamo with his adult son, who was captured in a compound with some 700 weapons, including small arms and rockets, according to lawyers and military documents released to the AP.

Khan and his son told a military panel that the younger man was guarding the weapons for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the father said he was arrested while complaining about his son's capture several days later.

The military said the father and son had links to the Taliban. At a military hearing, the father ridiculed the notion he could be a threat.

"How could I be an enemy combatant if I was not able to stand up," asked Khan, who has told his lawyers that he doesn't know his exact age but believes it's close to 78.

Ryan, who works for a Philadelphia-based law firm, said it seems unlikely the man is a threat to the United States but acknowledged he hasn't seen the classified evidence against him and may not know the full story.

"He just seems very grandfatherly," Ryan said. "But it's hard to say this without seeming naive."

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