- The Washington Times - Friday, July 9, 2004

The U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit is prepared to handle potentially hundreds of cases in the wake of Thursday’s ruling by a federal appeals court that the 594 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can use the D.C. court to pursue challenges to their continued detention.

“We have assumed a wait-and-see attitude on this until we know how many cases there might be and in what form they will come to us,” said Sheldon Snook, administrative assistant to Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan. “But the numbers are not unprecedented and while they might cause some problems, we’ve done it before.”

Mr. Snook said the court’s 15 judges have met concerning the potential cases.

“We might be working nights and weekends, but we’ll get it done,” he said.


On Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, in a ruling written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, said the U.S. District Court in D.C. was the proper venue given that the detainees are located overseas and would be suing the federal government.

The ruling was the first time an appeals court had determined where the challenges should be lodged. It followed a Supreme Court decision last month rejecting the Bush administration’s position that detainees could be maintained in military custody indefinitely, without charges or trial, because they were apprehended as suspected terrorists.

It was the Supreme Court that ordered the appeals court to determine the proper venue in a single case involving a Libyan, Salim Gherebi, who was captured in Afghanistan and is challenging his two-year detention.

Meanwhile, Navy Secretary Gordon England yesterday said at a press briefing that reviews are under way at Guantanamo to determine whether to release or detain each of those in custody. He said reviews are aimed at determining the “security needs of our nation and the human rights of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo Naval Base.”

Mr. England, named by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to oversee the review process, said separate review boards have been formed, each with three military officers, who will make recommendations to him for a final decision on each detainee.

Another group of officers, he said, will work exclusively with each of the detainees to compile and present to the review board any facts from the detainee or from his home country. In addition, the detainee — with appropriate translators — will be able to personally appear before the board, he said.

The panels will determine whether a detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant and, if not, then the detainee would be released to his home country, Mr. England said.

An enemy combatant has been described by the Pentagon as “an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” during the 2001 war in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had ordered that all Guantanamo Bay detainees be notified within 10 days of their opportunity to appear before the panels.