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U.S. Wants Fewer Gitmo Detainees

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is pressing the State Department to increase pressure on some unresponsive foreign capitals to take custody of some of their nationals who are held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a senior defense official said Friday.

The military has transferred 62 prisoners from Guantanamo to their home countries, but some countries — which officials did not identify — have largely ignored American requests for transfers, officials said. The senior official described Rumsfeld's effort, first reported Friday in The New York Times, on the condition of anonymity.

About 540 people from 40 countries are held at Guantanamo Bay, many of them prisoners from the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Already, the military has released 211 detainees from Guantanamo, including 146 who were freed outright plus the 62 who were transferred to the control of their home government.

In making these transfers, the U.S. government sets conditions, sometimes requiring that the detainee be held by their home country, and, in some cases, seeking protections regarding their treatment while in prison there.

Not all detainees at Guantanamo are eligible for transfer, officials said. Some, if freed, would remain a threat to U.S. interests, and several already freed from Guantanamo have returned to terrorist groups, officials said.

Some are also still supplying useful intelligence to interrogators, officials said.

The status of the detainees at Guantanamo has been in question since the U.S. military began holding detainees there in 2002.

U.S. courts, over the objections of the Bush administration, have found the detainees may challenge their incarcerations before a judge.

The government has argued that the detainees are "enemy combatants" — a classification that includes anyone who supported Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or the al Qaeda terrorist network — and are not entitled to the same legal protections as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, nor are they entitled to protections provided to other foreigners held on U.S. soil.

Still, the military has instituted several review procedures at Guantanamo to examine whether each detainee is still properly held. Some detainees have been ordered freed under these procedures.