Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, (R), the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, speaks with his defense lawyer on the third day of pre-trial hearings in the 9/11 war crimes prosecution as depicted in this Pentagon-approved courtroom sketch at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Janet Hamlin(reuters_tickers)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Detainees at the Guantanamo military prison include fighters who sought to kill Americans, but also men who cooked, translated or had only tenuous militant ties but were nonetheless held for many years, according to a report released on Wednesday that is likely to fuel debate over closing the facility.
The report is the first unclassified compilation describing more than 100 prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba as of November 2015. More than two dozen have since been transferred.
Among detainees described in the 33-page Pentagon document are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
Others include Mahammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, whom U.S. immigration authorities denied entry to the United States in August 2001 as he sought to be the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker, the report said. While al-Qahtani has often been referred to as the "20th hijacker," several other men have also made the claim.
Al-Qahtani later fought in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance, said the report released by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, who requested it from the Department of Defense.
Ayotte, an advocate for keeping Guantanamo open, pushed the Pentagon for years to provide more than minimal information about inmates cleared for transfer.
"Most of the detainees who remain at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst, as demonstrated by the fact that 93 percent of the detainees who remained there as of late last year had been assessed as a high risk for a return to terrorism," Ayotte said in a statement.
Among those held for more than a dozen years were also Muhammad Said Salim bin Salman, who trained at an al Qaeda camp, but was on the frontlines "possibly as a cook."
Another, Abdul Zahir, said he was a bookkeeper and translator for al Qaeda and the Taliban only because his family was threatened.
President Barack Obama, who vowed to close the prison before leaving office in January, is downsizing it by transferring detainees not considered security threats to foreign countries.
There are now 76 detainees, of whom 31 have been cleared for transfer. Overall, about 800 have been transferred, most under Republican President George W. Bush.
Obama and other Democrats said holding prisoners for years without charge goes against U.S. values and makes Guantanamo a militant recruiting tool. Ayotte and like-minded Republicans call the prison essential for handling dangerous suspects.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Grant McCool)