Military hearings open to media

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba _ The Sudanese terrorism suspect shackled to the floor grew indignant after three U.S. military officers inquired whether he'd be a danger to America - if he were set free after three years in captivity.

"Never! I want to get married and live in my house, " the 30-year-old man exclaimed through an interpreter.

Still, he admitted no wrongdoing. He had gone to Afghanistan to teach the Koran, he said, and was given an AK-47 to guard a food storehouse. He was wounded in a 2001 assault by the United States and Northern Alliance at Mazar-i-Sharif, and said he still had shrapnel in his head and a bullet in his stomach to prove it.

"I don't pose a threat to the United States, " he said. "From the beginning, I didn't pose a threat to the United States. There is nothing else."

That was the scene for 80 minutes behind the razor wire Tuesday, a rare look of late inside Camp Delta, where the sullen Sudanese man met his Pentagon parole board in an air conditioned metal trailer -- wearing chains, a beige uniform and black flip-flops.

It was the first time the Defense Department allowed American reporters to see its latest review process -- started three months ago -- meant to systematically thin the 500 or so prisoners held here as enemy combatants.

And he was the only captive to speak to the board this week. More than half the 64 detainees invited to make a personal pitch for freedom have boycotted the hearings.

Three other men held here since January 2001 - from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia - skipped their hearings, the military said.


In fact, the Sudanese man had also declined, twice, until a Marine lieutenant colonel persuaded him.

Navy Capt. Eric Kaniut, overall commander of Pentagon review processes here, said prisoners are skipping their hearings for reasons that range from sheer skepticism to disagreement with the U.S. authority to hold them.

"Some are cynical, " he said.

Also, more than 100 prisoners have gotten U.S. civilian lawyers since June, but they are banned from the sessions. So some who have met with their clients have advised them against taking part in extra-judicial Pentagon review processes.

None of the prisoners has ever been convicted of a U.S. crime and only four have been charged -- in Military Commissions that have been closed since November by a federal court order. The Pentagon is appealing.


In the end, the Sudanese prisoner agreed to attend his hearing, Kaniut said.

Next, his panel of three senior officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force will study the prisoner's secret intelligence file to decide whether to recommend to Washington that he be held for another year - or sent home.

The Sudanese man told the parole board that, unlike U.S. military intelligence accounts, he had never threatened to attack Americans and never knew any senior Taliban or al Qaeda members.

He conceded that he trained to shoot an AK-47, but argued he broke no law "unless the U.S. has made an international decree that no one can learn to use a weapon except an American."


* Since the hearings began Dec. 14, 35 prisoners ranging in age from 22 to 50 have shunned the process. Three more attended but declined to say anything, according to a Navy spokesman.

* Prisoners who have attended the hearings are shackled to the floor inside a metal trailer facing three military officers chosen from the Air Force, the Army, the Navy and the Marines.


* U.S. officials are still working diplomatic channels to deport 28 prisoners who have been cleared for release by earlier boards that found the prisoners did not meet the minimum U.S. interpretation of an enemy combatant.

* About 500 prisoners remain and are classified as enemy combatants at a time when the Pentagon is envisioning permanent cell space for about 300.

* Defense Department officials are also reportedly proposing that Afghanistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia agree to imprison some Guantánamo captives.