12 July 2004
Defense Department Report, July 12: Update on Guantanamo Detainees
England says tribunal process could be finished within four months
The process of notifying detainees being held in U.S. military custody at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Air Station of their legal rights began on July 12.
The detainees, citizens of some 40 nations, are being held as "enemy combatants" as part of the war on terrorism. An enemy combatant is anyone accused of supporting actions against the United States, according to Navy Secretary Gordon England.
England, the senior civilian defense official charged with overseeing the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, told reporters at the Pentagon July 9 that the goal is to notify all 594 detainees of their rights by July 15. Doing so, he said, is "a daunting task" since the individuals being held at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba speak 17 languages. Because some are unable to read, England said they would be informed of their rights orally in their primary language.
England said he wants to move the military tribunals along as swiftly as possible without jeopardizing fairness. He said he expects the hearing process to begin within a few weeks.
Three hearing boards will convene six days a week once the process begins officially, England said. By running them so frequently, he said, he hopes some 72 detainees will be processed each week, allowing most of the detainees to be processed within three to four months.
Detainees will appear before the tribunals on a voluntary basis, with each person having the right to contest his designation as an enemy combatant.
If it is determined that a person is not an enemy combatant, England said the individual will be released through the State Department to his home country.
The secretary named Navy (Reserve) Rear Admiral James McGarrah as the convening authority for the tribunals, meaning he will assign military officers to serve as "personal representatives" to help the accused understand the intricacies of the cases against them. Officers will also make up the tribunal panels.
Even though witnesses for the accused may be called to appear before the tribunal, England said it is more likely that they will submit written affidavits instead because the military installation in Guantanamo is remote, with no commercial flights or lodging.
When asked if the tribunal process accurately reflects the recent Supreme Court decision regarding enemy combatants, England replied, "[I]t is in the spirit" of that decision.
In addition to the tribunal process, the military's right to continue holding a detainee must be reviewed annually.
Following is the transcript of England's press briefing http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20040709-0986.html
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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