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American Forces Press Service

DoD to Review Status of All Guantanamo Detainees

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2004 - Within 10 days, all 594 detainees held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be informed of their right to contest their status under new procedures.

Defense officials announced July 7 that they are setting up a series of hearings to give all detainees a forum to plead their case to a panel of three U.S. military officers, officially called a Combatant Status Review Tribunal.

"Each of the detainees at Guantanamo has been determined to be an enemy combatant through multiple layers of review by the department," a senior Defense Department official said in a background briefing in the Pentagon.

He said the new procedures, which were provided for in an order signed July 7 by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are designed to reflect guidance handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in two recent decisions.

The tribunal panel will not look at guilt or innocence. The defense official said the tribunals are being set up only "to provide an opportunity for the detainee to contest the determination that's been made that he is an enemy combatant."

The Supreme Court ruled June 28 in two consolidated cases, Rasul v. Bush, No. 03-334, and al Odah v. Rumsfeld, No. 03-343, that enemy combatants held by the U.S. government had the right to contest their status before a judge or other neutral decision maker. Government officials believe the Combatant Status Review Tribunal meets that requirement.

The senior defense official and an accompanying senior Justice Department official did not brief on other areas of the Supreme Court's decision, such as the requirement that detainees be given the opportunity to protest their detention in U.S. federal courts. The officials said such procedures are still being worked out, and they wouldn't speculate.

Officials are still working on a timeline for the review tribunals but did release some details. Within 10 days, all detainees will be notified of the tribunal proceedings and of their right to request an appearance before a federal judge to seek a writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is an order for a person in custody to be brought before a court to decide the legality of detention.

Also within 10 days from the order's signing, all detainees will be appointed a "personal representative" in the form of a U.S. military officer who has access to the detainees' case information and will help them prepare presentations for the tribunal. The personal representative may also participate in the tribunal on the detainee's behalf.

The tribunals will convene within 30 days after the personal representatives are given the detainees' personal files and meet with the detainees for the first time.

Detainees will be afforded the opportunity to present evidence, make statements on their own behalf and call witnesses "that are reasonably available." The defense official said the implementing authority, Navy Secretary Gordon England, will determine what "reasonably available" entails.

Detainees will not be compelled to testify at the tribunals if they choose not to.

Translators will be available at all stages of this process, the officials said.

The tribunal will consist of a voting panel of three military officers, with a minimum of one attorney. A second military attorney will serve as a non-voting recorder. The panel's deliberations on each case will be done in private.

The officials explained that should the panel decide a detainee is not an enemy combatant, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would notify Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell would, in turn, work with the detainee's home country to coordinate release to that country.

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