SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The U.S. Justice Department on Friday made public the names of 55 Guantanamo prisoners who have been approved for transfer to the custody of other countries, releasing information sought by human rights organizations.
The announcement, which reverses a 2009 decision, was a surprise to organizations that had filed FOIA requests seeking the information.
“We did not expect this,” said Omar Farah, attorney for the Center for constitutional Rights. “This is an important development.”
Farah said the government’s action will be a boost for lawyers representing detainees at the U.S. military base in Cuba. “We can now advocate publicly for the release of our clients by name,” he said.
The government’s move has no immediate, practical effect on the inmates’ detention. Inclusion on the list does not mean that the U.S. has absolved them of any wrongdoing or that it believes they pose no threat, and there was no indication of when any might be sent elsewhere.
In 2009, Ambassador Daniel Fried, the Obama administration’s special envoy on detainee issues, argued then that it was necessary to keep the prisoners’ identities secret while the U.S. negotiated transfers to other countries.
“It is important for the U.S. government to have the latitude to approach potential destination countries in a discreet and confidential manner, in order to minimize the risk of undue publicity,” Fried said in a statement at the time.