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Homeland Security

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News Transcript

Presenter: Navy Secretary Gordon England
Friday, July 30, 2004 10:58 a.m. EDT

Special Department of Defense Briefing with Navy Secretary Gordon England

SEC. ENGLAND: Good morning. I believe I know everyone here, but if not, Gordon England, Secretary of the Navy.

Here to talk about our review processes at Guantanamo. You will recall several weeks ago, perhaps a month ago, I was here the first time -- this is my fourth time -- I was here the first time to talk about the annual review process at Guantanamo. And that was a process to determine whether a detainee remains a threat to the United States and its allies in this global war on terror. This is -- that process was basically stopped, delayed after the Supreme Court decision, and then the last time we met, we talked about the tribunals that we have set up now, and those tribunals are to determine, review the status of detainees, to determine that they are indeed enemy combatants or not enemy combatants. So these are tribunals to make that determination to review those prior determinations.

Now, again by way of completeness, there's two other processes in place at Guantanamo. One is the habeas petitions, and the other is the military commissions. So, I set those aside because they're not my responsibility. The two I've mentioned are, the annual review and also the determination if they're enemy combatants. So, those two are the two I have responsibility for.

Okay, now let me tell you where we are today, because we have made significant progress in terms of our tribunal's determination that detainees are or are not enemy combatants. Last night I did sign the implementing guidance for the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which is the formal name for the tribunals, and you should all have gotten a copy of those implementing directives. So those implementing directives are out and signed, and that means we can now begin our tribunals.

We have -- the last time we talked; we had 14 people on the ground in Guantanamo preparing for these tribunals. We currently have over 40 people in Guantanamo, and they are reviewing records, detainee records. They are meeting with detainees, and you will recall we have already notified all of the detainees. You will recall the original order. There was a 10-day window to notify all the detainees. We did accomplish that in about four or five days, notified all the detainees. We're now meeting with the detainees, preparing for these meetings, and we're getting ready to conduct the first tribunals.

Q: Are they going to be today?


Q: Sorry to interject. Will the first ones be today?

SEC. ENGLAND: And -- and the first tribunal, Charlie, will start this afternoon. So, we will have the very first tribunals standing up this afternoon. We will begin slowly because we do want to validate our processes and procedures. As we need to, we will make changes to those procedures. The ones you have today, we'll continue to revise them to make sure they're -- as we have lessons learned, we update our procedures.

Now, over the next few weeks, we will then stand up two more tribunal teams. Again, you will recall the plan is to have three tribunal teams, and optimistically we are hoping that each team can conduct 24 tribunals a week. Again, that may not be achievable because some of these can be complex cases, but that's our hope and expectation. And our planning is to complete the tribunals, have them totally complete within 30 to 120 days. And, I say that because some of these may lag because if we need witnesses, or complication, whatever, we can have some, you know; take longer at the tail end of this process.

Our intent is still to have a small media pool. So, we will have a small media pool that can observe the tribunals, the unclassified part of the tribunals. And, we hope that we can stand it up next week. So, we do have to worry about things like security and security clearances and logistics, but hopefully literally in a matter of days -- it'll be days and not weeks -- we should have all that in place, and we'll have a media pool available. And Beci (CDR Beci Brenton) is here. Beci is here. And Beci is available to talk to you because she will be the focal point in terms of arranging the pools and making all this work. But, again, hopefully next week someone from the media pool can be there.

We're also engaged in consultations with the ICRC regarding their possible participation as observers. So, we will have both press and we are in consultation with the ICRC. And this starts now today the tribunal process, and again it will accelerate in terms of numbers over time.

Then following behind will be the annual review process. Right. Tribunals come first, determination of enemy combatants. Then we do the next board meetings, which is the annual review, and that is to determine if the detainee continues to be a threat to the United States or to our allies. So, we're working in -- and I would hope in a couple of weeks we will have that process underway. So, we will have both -- both processes going on in parallel, but the tribunals will lead -- by necessity will lead the annual review process by week, two weeks, several weeks, whatever it is we can do in terms standing up the next boards.

So that's a status of today. We have made significant progress. I'm pleased to report that today. And, hopefully next week, soon, the media will have an opportunity to actually review these tribunals in process.

So, with that I'll open it up to questions, but hopefully that's a pretty complete description of where we are. And, by the way, we'll have opportunities -- if this moves along, we will get together again to review, you know, the status of this process.


Q: Secretary, you said these habeas corpus petitions are not part of your purview. And yet your people are advising the -- advising these prisoners that they have the right to habeas corpus petitions. Is that not right?

SEC. ENGLAND: No, that's true. We did do that, and we accomplished that several weeks ago.

Q: In this notification of the habeas corpus, it says that these prisoners can have their, quote, personal representatives for advice or explanation. But these personal representatives are not legal people at all. In fact, the personal representatives in these hearings are not legal representatives. How do they get advice of any legal rights if these personal representatives have no legal knowledge, military law and that kind of stuff?

SEC. ENGLAND: Well, this is not a legal proceeding. This is an administrative proceeding. So, this is an administrative proceeding, fact-based administrative proceeding to determine they are or are not enemy combatants. So, this is an admini -- this is not a legal. This is not a trial. This is fact-based determination of you're an enemy combatant. Separate from that is habeas corpus review.

Q: What if they have questions of their personal representatives on the right to habeas corpus review? Is the Justice Department moving to get these people legal representation?

SEC. ENGLAND: Charlie, I'll have to refer you to the Justice Department. I am in a very narrow -- not necessarily narrow -- but in a very specific area. Two administrative reviews, annual review, and the tribunal's determination of enemy combatants. Justice Department is handling the habeas because that's a legal aspect. I'm handling the administrative side.

Q: If this tribunal would determine that a detainee is not properly classified as enemy combatant, what happens then?

SEC. ENGLAND: We will then work with the Department of State for arrangements to return that person to their home country.

Q: So they're freed immediately?

SEC. ENGLAND: They will be free. If they're not an enemy -- if the determination is made they're not enemy combatant, they will -- we'll work with State to return them to their home country.

Q: Who is getting reviewed today? Can you give any information on this case?

SEC. ENGLAND: No, I don't. And by the way, we won't be giving out names because of security issues and confidentiality issues, but -- and I don't know myself -- but, you know, there's a lot of detainees. So, as cases are put together, facts are determined, you know, we'll do it in whatever order is most convenient to do that.

Q: So, when the pool is there, they won't be able to report the person's name?

SEC. ENGLAND: No, they will not.

Q: Is it just one today, or are there several detainees going through one tribunal?

SEC. ENGLAND: We'll start today -- there will be at lease one today. I would expect there'll be one just because we need a start, and I would like to do one just to understand that, make sure it's working properly and then we'll accelerate as our experience allows.

Q: You said just now that, you know, they will be free if they are determined not to be properly held as enemy combatants, working with the State Department they shall return them to their home countries. So this -- do I understand you correctly then, this is quite different than the detainees you have already released back to their home countries, where we have been told you work with those governments to make sure that they are still either held in their domestic legal system, or somehow the country takes responsibility for them? You said, "They will be free." They are simply returned to their country?

SEC. ENGLAND: If they are not enemy combatants, they'll be free. Now, the other process, which is very similar to what you just said, is the annual review. The annual review determination has nothing to do with enemy combatants. By the time we do that, we know they are enemy combatants. Now, the question is, are they still a threat or a value to the United States. Do they get re -- do they continue to be detained? Are they returned to their country? Or are they returned to their country with conditions?

So the cases you mentioned are more in line with the annual review board than the determination of enemy combatants.

Q: And if someone is determined not to be an enemy combatant and returned to their country of origin, and, as you say, is free, what is the U.S. government going to give these people as they are set free? Do you give them any financial resources? Do you give them money? Do you give them anything?

SEC. ENGLAND: Sorry. I don't know that answer. I only -- again, we will make the determination, enemy combatants or not enemy combatants, and sorry, I can't answer beyond that. Perhaps, next time we can have someone address that question for you.

Q: How would the United States be able to guarantee any treatment -- I mean, their treatment, which if somebody went back to Saudi Arabia -- what's to prevent the Saudis from just picking this person up?

SEC. ENGLAND: That's part of the discussion we had with Department of State. So, again, we'll consult with Department of State and make sure we handle this appropriately.

Maybe the last one. I think we're about run out on our --

Q: Sir, are you going to go down for the first one and observe it?

SEC. ENGLAND: Yes, I am. Yes, I'll be there next week to personally observe, make sure we're operating. We will have quality control, checks built into this system. You'll notice if you looked at the procedures -- some of you had a chance to maybe skim through them -- they're very precise, very detailed. It's very high standards in terms of performance for our people, the methodology, documentation review. So, this is a very precise, very professional, repetitive process, and we will make sure that we maintain those standards for all the detainees and for all the tribunals and all the hearing. So we will have quality control checks built in. I'll be there next week to personally observe, and hopefully next week also the media will be there to observe.

Q: Are you allowing --

SEC. ENGLAND: Not next week. I meant, you know, maybe the following week, but we're trying to do this, again, in days and not weeks.

Q: Are you allowing any international observers, ICRC or any others?

SEC. ENGLAND: I said we were in consultation with ICRC for their potential participation.

Q: But that has not been decided yet?

SEC. ENGLAND: Well, again, it's really up to ICRC. We're in consultation with them. If they decide to participate, they can certainly participate.

Q: Mr. Secretary? Could you just remind me? I've gotten a little -- with all these three processes going on, I've gotten a little bit confused.

SEC. ENGLAND: I understand.

Q: What was the impetus for this procedure and the emphasis for the annual reviews? I mean, what made the government decide to do them? And what's the difference? Why are they separate?

SEC. ENGLAND: Well, they are different administrative processes. I mean, for clarity, again there's two different detailed procedures because there's two different decisions being made. So in one case, we're looking at the facts to determine if someone is an enemy combatant, and in the other case we're looking at the facts to determine if a detainee is still a threat to the United States or to our friends and allies, to the American people. So, they're different decisions, different set of facts, different decision processes. So, there's two different types of boards, and they operate differently. And, again they are defined in terms of the detail procedures that we've put out and provided.

Q: But why have these procedures been created? What led to these decisions?

SEC. ENGLAND: I'm not sure I can fully answer the question, but my underst -- but my understanding is that we do want to make sure that annually we review people at Guantanamo so they're not just, quote, at Guantanamo. I mean, we do want to have an annual process that we reexamine that person's threat status to the country because it could change as a function of individual circumstances, et cetera. So, we have an annual review to make sure that people are treated fairly in terms of their incarcerations at Guantanamo.

Q: Right, but I mean you could have done that two years ago. What happened to -- what led to the creation of --

SEC. ENGLAND: I don't know all the details. I just don't know all the details. I don't know all that history of determination. Okay?

Q: Have their been any --

SEC. ENGLAND: Just one more here.

Q: Have there been any guidelines released yet under which attorneys who are representing some of the detainees can travel down to Guantanamo?

SEC. ENGLAND: There's no -- there are no attorneys representing detainees for these administrative hearings. So, that would again be a habeas type discussion, and that's really Department of Justice.

Q. I just -- I was wondering, you talked a little bit about this last time, the sort of the, I don't know, the mood or the reaction of the detainees to these, you know, to the availability of these processes. I wonder if you could just kind of give us a general sense on their participation, on --

SEC. ENGLAND: I don't have any data beyond the last time I discussed this with you. We should shortly because we are now talking to detainees in terms of assisting them for these tribunal hearings. But when we notified the detainees, at that point 90-95 percent were very positive. That is, they wanted to talk about it. They wanted to understand the timing. You know, they -- we got the clear sense they wanted to participate. So that was when we were notifying them, and now we're actually working with the detainees. So, we will get a sense -- remember, detainee does not have to appear before the tribunal. That's a choice that they have. So, as we have these hearings, these tribunals, we'll obviously be accumulating more data in terms of their participation.

Thank you all very much. And, we'll be able to do this again in another week or so here.

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