Back in September 2005, when I first began researching Guantánamo for my book The Guantánamo Files, the prison was still shrouded in mystery, even though attorneys had been visiting prisoners for nearly a year, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, in June 2004, that they had habeas corpus rights. Researchers at the Washington Post and at Cageprisoners, a human rights organization in the U.K., had compiled tentative lists of who was being held, but, although these efforts were commendable, much of it was little more than groping in the dark — a broken jigsaw puzzle based on media reports and interviews with released prisoners — because the Bush administration refused to provide details of the names and nationalities of those it was holding.
In April 2006 — four years and three months after Guantánamo opened — the government finally conceded defeat, after the Associated Press took the Pentagon to court, and won. That month, the first ever list of prisoners (PDF) — containing the names and nationalities of the 558 prisoners who had been subjected to the administration’s Combatant Status Review Tribunals (one-sided reviews, designed to rubberstamp their prior designation as “enemy combatants”) — was released, and was followed in May by a list of the 759 prisoners held up to that point (including the 201 who had been released before the tribunals began), which included names, nationalities, and, where known, dates of birth and places of birth (PDF).
The government also released 8,000 pages of tribunal transcripts and allegations against the prisoners, which pierced the veil of secrecy still further, allowing outside observers, as well as lawyers, the opportunity to examine whether the government’s claims that the prison was full of terrorists were true, and to conclude that, actually, the prison was largely populated by innocent men or low-level Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the 9/11 attacks, and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. [continued…]