The Obama administration on Monday publicly identified for the first time 46 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay whom it wants to hold indefinitely without charge or trial because it says they are too dangerous to release but cannot be prosecuted.
The Defense Department released the names on Monday after the Miami Herald and a group of Yale Law School students sued for its release in a U.S. District Court in Washington.
Human rights groups applauded the release of the list as long overdue but denounced the practice of indefinite detention without trial.
"The government's categories, as well as the process for sorting people into them, are fundamentally flawed," said Zeke Johnson, Director of Amnesty International USA's Security and Human Rights Program.
"Under international human rights law, all of the detainees should either be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or released."
President Barack Obama has said he would set up periodic review boards to regularly re-evaluate the status of prisoners designated for indefinite detention, but he has not yet done it.
In the meantime, the United States says it can continue to hold the prisoners under the post-Sept 11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al Qaeda and its supporters and affiliates passed by Congress.
The prisoners on the list were first reviewed by an administration task force of lawyers, military officers and intelligence agents. In a 2010 report, they declared 48 Guantanamo prisoners too dangerous to release. But the report said they could not be tried, either because there was no evidence linking them to specific attacks or because evidence against them was tainted by coercion or abuse.
On the list were 26 Yemenis, 12 Afghans, three Saudis, two Kuwaitis, two Libyans, a Kenyan, a Moroccan and a Somali. Two of the Afghans died after the list was compiled, one from suicide and the other from a heart attack.
That leaves 46 of the 166 Guantanamo prisoners designated as indefinite detainees.
The Guantanamo detention camp was set up in 2002 to hold prisoners captured in U.S. counter-terrorism operations overseas.
Obama recently called it a stain on America's reputation and reiterated his intent to close it. He said his administration would appoint a pair of envoys from the State and Defense departments to work on that.
The State Department on Monday announced the appointment of veteran Washington lawyer Clifford Sloan to work with a yet-to-be-chosen Defense Department envoy to negotiate the repatriation or resettlement of 86 prisoners who have been cleared for transfer or release.
The announcement came as five prisoners charged with plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on the United States appeared in the war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base for a week of pretrial hearings.
Defendants in the death penalty case include the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other men accused of funding and training the hijackers.
All five defendants appeared adequately fed, suggesting they have not joined more than 100 other detainees who have waged a four-month hunger strike to protest the failure to resolve their fate after more than a decade of detention at Guantanamo.
They sat quietly in the courtroom as their lawyers questioned a retired admiral who previously oversaw the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal.
The lengthy and at times tedious questioning was aimed at showing the admiral and other military officials meddled in attorney-client communications, which are supposed to be confidential.
The hearing was the first in the case since February, when camp officials revealed that what appeared to be smoke alarms in the huts where defense lawyers met with the defendants were actually microphones.
Camp officials insisted that they never listened to or recorded attorney-client meetings at the detention camp and said the microphones have since been disabled.
In addition to the five defendants in the 9/11 case, the Obama administration had planned to try about 36 prisoners in the war crimes tribunal.
But the chief prosecutor in the tribunals, Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, told Reuters last week that number would be scaled back to about 20 - including the 9/11 defendants and seven cases that have already been completed.
He had planned to charge many of the others with providing material support for terrorism but a U.S. appeals court ruled last year that was not internationally recognized as a war crime when the acts in question took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.