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U.S. officials: Gitmo transfer talks active

From Andrea Koppel and
Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and at least 10 other nations are involved in negotiations that could drop the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay by 80 percent -- or 410 people -- within the coming months, State Department officials said.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen are among the countries in "various stages of discussion" with the Bush administration about the return of their citizens in the next two months, said the two U.S. officials who hold senior posts.

Last week the United States and Afghanistan announced an agreement on a similar transfer.

The United States has 510 detainees from 34 countries in custody at Guantanamo.

Citizens from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen account for the majority of those detainees with 129, 110 and 107 respectively, the two U.S. officials said.

Detainees whom the United States considers "really bad guys" will remain in Guantanamo, the officials said, but in coming months the facility population could drop to about 100.

The U.S. military began bringing detainees from Afghanistan to the facility in Cuba in early 2002. The detainees in custody are suspected terrorists.

The releases could begin as early as next month. CNN reviewed the agreement that countries must sign before the United States transfers detainees.

The terms include a commitment to:

  • treat detainees "humanely and in a manner consistent with applicable international obligations"
  • refrain from torture
  • allow the United States or a third party such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to the detainees to "verify the assurances"
  • "investigate, detain and prosecute" the detainee to the fullest extent possible; and
  • provide the United States with "advance notice" and place the detainee on "watch lists" should a country decide to release a detainee.
  • "We're not changing how the detainees are classified," one senior U.S. official said. " We're changing where they're held."

    The United States likely will not release all of a country's citizens at one time after reaching an agreement, one senior U.S. official said.

    This transfers would be more gradual, happening over months or years, the official said. That would allow the countries to avoid having to handle a crush of detainees all at once and provide the United States with the opportunity to ensure that the various governments abide by the terms of the agreement.

    One particularly sticky situation in negotiations with an unnamed European country concerns the placement of more than a dozen Chinese Uigurs -- Turkic people who live mainly in west China and Uzbekistan, the senior officials said. The United States is concerned the Uigurs might suffer abuse in China.

    The officials said that after negative media reports about the Guantanamo facility and alleged desecrations of the Quran, citizens in Muslim countries "woke up" their governments to expediting the necessary preparations for their nationals' return.

    During the last two, years the United States has released at least 80 people, including dozens of detainees to European countries.

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