- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

A U.S. military panel reviewing the cases of terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay has concluded that four of the suspects are properly labeled “enemy combatants,” the Pentagon said yesterday.

The cases are the first to undergo a review process aimed at determining whether any of the nearly 600 men held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba since shortly after September 11 are unjustly detained.

So far, review hearings have looked into the cases of 21 suspects held at Guantanamo. Navy Secretary Gordon R. England said the four whose cases have been decided will not have a chance to appeal. He did not give the identities or nationalities of the four, but said the State Department was in the process of notifying their home countries.

Military officials say all of the suspects at Guantanamo are expected to go through the review hearings by the end of the year. Any who are found to have been improperly classified as “enemy combatants” may be released to their home countries.

The majority of those held at Guantanamo were captured during the 2001 campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Bush administration has consistently referred to them as “enemy combatants.”

Still, the Pentagon created the review hearings in response to a June 29 Supreme Court ruling that said U.S. federal courts have jurisdiction over the cases of those held at Guantanamo. It remains to be seen whether the review hearings will satisfy that ruling.

Human rights lawyers have criticized the review hearings as limited and an ultimately inadequate attempt by the Pentagon to satisfy the Supreme Court ruling.

A specific problem, according to Deborah N. Pearlstein, director of the lawyers’ group Human Rights First, is that the review hearings are held by military officials rather than an independent judicial body. Critically, she said, prisoners trying to defend themselves have “no practical access to evidence or witnesses.”

Holding a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, Mr. England said that the review hearings were “only to determine if detainees are enemy combatants or if they’re not enemy combatants.”

He stressed that the hearings, called “combatant status review tribunals,” are separate from military commissions expected to be held for a handful of terror suspects at Guantanamo whom the Pentagon has charged with war crimes.

Mr. England said the review hearings put the prisoners in line for yet another separate process designed by the Pentagon called “the annual review board,” which will ultimately determine if Guantanamo prisoners are “still a threat to the United States.”

“The definition of an enemy combatant,” he said, “[is] anyone who was part of supporting the Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces engaging in hostilities against the United States or our coalition partners.”

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