FBI wants DNA from terror suspects

Federal officials ponder creation of databank to identify detainees

March 03, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Frustrated by their inability to identify most of the captured fighters of al-Qaida and the Taliban, federal authorities are proposing to create a DNA databank of terrorism suspects by analyzing blood samples from thousands of detainees being held in Afghanistan and Cuba, government officials said.

The officials said the DNA database could help in forming a more complete picture of al-Qaida and in tracking terrorism suspects in the future. The DNA could prove particularly important because officials believe many of the detainees will eventually have to be released without any certainty about their identities.

The information could also play a role in some investigations, including the case of Richard Reid, who has been accused of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoes. Investigators said the DNA might help them trace the source of hairs found in Reid's shoes and possibly identify an accomplice.

The DNA database has been proposed by FBI officials and is being reviewed at the Justice Department, officials said. Congressional approval would be required to expand the National DNA Index System to permit the FBI to take DNA samples from suspected terrorists and keep the information in computer files.

The DNA proposal is likely to raise concerns among civil liberties groups that have fought attempts to expand the use of DNA profiling, and from advocates for the detainees and officials from some countries that have objected to the treatment of the prisoners by the United States.

Even before the DNA proposal, civil rights groups had objected to the treatment of the prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said conditions there are inhumane because the men are being kept in 8-foot-by-8-foot chain-link cages topped with corrugated metal. Other rights advocates have said the prisoners are being denied due process.

Yesterday, a hunger strike by prisoners at the base seemed to lose momentum after the U.S. military agreed to allow the captives to wear turbans, as long as guards could inspect them at any time, the Associated Press reported.

Of the 300 terror suspects detained at Guantanamo, 85 refused to eat breakfast yesterday, military officials said.

That number was up from about 75 at lunch and dinner Friday but down from the peak of the hunger strike Thursday, when 194 prisoners declined lunch.

Officials said few of the captured fighters at Guantanamo have been positively identified, and U.S. interrogators know most of them only by their aliases. The officials said there were 7,500 to 8,000 more prisoners in detention camps in Afghanistan, most of them in the custody of the Afghan forces that captured them. Almost none of them have identity papers, and U.S. officials said it was possible that some were leaders of al-Qaida.

Despite the inability to identify the detainees, the officials said some of the prisoners had revealed intriguing, although unconfirmed, information during interrogations.

Notably, some detainees have said they heard that hijackers were being trained in an Afghan camp before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, officials said. Several have also said they saw Osama bin Laden after Sept. 11 and suggested to interrogators that bin Laden quickly shifted his headquarters to the mountainous region around Tora Bora after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

U.S. officials believe bin Laden stayed in the Tora Bora region until mid- to late-December before dropping out of sight. No detainees have provided information about his whereabouts after he left Tora Bora, officials said.

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