Annual Review Process Begins for Guantanamo Detainees
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2004 -- An annual review process has begun to determine if individual detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are still threats to the United States or if they can be released to their home countries.
Individual enemy combatants began going through the hearings, officially called Administrative Review Boards, within the past week, Navy Secretary Gordon England said in a Pentagon news briefing today. England is responsible for administering the process at Guantanamo Bay.
England approved procedures for the boards on Sept. 14. The ARBs are designed to be an annual hearing for each of the roughly 550 detainees to determine if an individual is still a threat to the United States. If an individual is found to not be a threat, he could be returned to his home country to face further detention there or be released in his home country.
Four individuals have gone through the process to date, England said. The board results are now going through an administrative and legal review, and results will be forwarded to England for final approval within a month, he explained.
England noted these ARBs are "purely voluntary" on the part of the U.S. government. "There's no precedent for this type of process," he said. "This is a process we instituted to assess whether an enemy combatant continues to pose a threat to our country or to our allies or whether there's other factors that might be reasons for continued detention."
At the ARB proceedings, detainees can present evidence and call witnesses. Their families and home countries also have the opportunity to present statements, evidence or witnesses on the detainees' behalf. No information was available today on whether the detainees participated in the four proceedings from the past week or had witnesses present.
The review boards are completely separate from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals that have been going on since August and are now winding down. These tribunals are a one-time process during which detainees have an opportunity to protest their detention before a panel of three officers. The tribunals then decide whether each detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant.
As of today, 507 detainees have gone through the tribunal process, and the convening authority, Navy Reserve Rear Adm. James McGarrah, has released results in 230 of those cases. Of those, 228 have been found to be enemy combatants. In September, a tribunal panel found one detainee was not an enemy combatant and he was returned to his home in Pakistan. Today, England announced that a second detainee was found not to be an enemy combatant and would soon be released in his home country. No further details were available on the second detainee England referenced today. He said the State Department was arranging for the individual's release with his home country.
"The nationality of the individual will not be released until after arrival at the destination or if released in advance by the home country," England said.
The CSRTs should be finished within the next month, England said. He had previously said he hoped they'd be finished by the end of 2004. He acknowledged today that estimate was ambitious, but noted the priority is to be accurate, not fast.
"The objective is to be thorough, not be quick," he said. "So we are being thorough, and it is taking longer than we expected. But we still, I believe, have made significant progress this year in terms of our hearings."
Until the Combatant Status Review Tribunals are completed, they will be running concurrently with the Administrative Review Boards. Once the tribunals are finished, the rate of the boards should pick up. England explained that the military personnel working on the CSRTs will then concentrate on the ARBs, thus speeding up that process.
He estimated it would take most of a year to complete the review boards for every detainee at Guantanamo. "It's a long, complicated process gathering data," he said.
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