GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Some of the Afghan war detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay could be returned to their homelands after interrogations and face military tribunals there, a U.S. senator said Friday.
The 158 detainees come from 25 countries, Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert told reporters without identifying the nations. Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said he did not think more than 15 percent were from Afghanistan. Previously, officials said detainees at this U.S. military outpost were from 10 countries.
"I think in the interrogation process we're going to find that some of them will be legitimately sent back to their countries," Inhofe said of the al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.
Inhofe's spokesman, Jared Young, later said that the senator stressed that sending the detainees home was a possibility that the Bush administration still is considering and that no decisions have been made.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, said upon his return that he favored military tribunals to handle the prisoners' cases.
He said the al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners at Camp X-ray were not being mistreated and were being given adequate food and medical care.
Inhofe and Sessions were part of a delegation of 17 representatives and three senators that visited the detention center on Cuba on Friday. Earlier the delegation said 22 representatives were supposed to visit.
Questioning by interrogators from several U.S. civilian and military agencies began Wednesday. The detainees have not been allowed lawyers, and officials would not say how long the interrogations might last.
"I believe after the interrogation process there's going to be a distinction made as to whether, No. 1, these people should be sent to their country and, No. 2, be subjected to a military tribunal (at home) and, No. 3, whether there should be U.S. military justice or, in some rare occasions, the same as in what John Walker (Lindh) is receiving," Inhofe said.
Lindh, who was caught fighting with the Taliban, is facing federal charges that he conspired to kill his fellow Americans in Afghanistan in a U.S. civilian court because he is an American.
U.S. lawmakers have said they consider the detained fighters a danger to society who would kill again if set free.
Legislators had come in hopes that the interrogations were yielding useful intelligence for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said interrogators "are starting to obtain valuable information."
Republican Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana said the information being gathered would not be used for prosecutions. He said the interrogators first were trying to work out which captives should be sent home.
The lawmakers declined to say whether the United States was getting answers to key questions about terrorist training or the whereabouts of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
In a dramatic scene, the U.S. delegation was driven on white buses into Camp X-ray, the detention camp fortified by three layers of fences topped by razor wire and patrolled by attack dogs.
"Nothing was hidden from us," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. He said that within their cell the prisoners have freedom of movement and can talk with one another.
When the legislators reached the open-air cells of chain-link fence walls topped by a corrugated iron roof, officials pointed out an Australian inmate who allegedly threatened to kill an American, according to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
She said there was no communication with the Australian, and that he appeared "docile" like other detainees. She said they were reading the Quran, Islam's holy book, and had towels over their heads — apparently in place of the turbans to which they are accustomed.
Nelson said in Miami: "The little bit of eye contact that I had, I sensed hostility."
The Australian, 26-year-old David Hicks, is the only detainee identified by name, by his father in a request for the Australian government to demand his return home.
Australia said Friday it continues to assess the legal position of Hicks, who was caught fighting with the defeated Taliban army.