- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

The military began conducting review panels in late July to assess whether the approximately 585 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay should be classified as “enemy combatants,” a designation with fewer legal protections. To date, the military has reviewed or began review of 25 cases. On Friday, a military official announced that they had ruled in four persons’ cases: The detainees were classified properly as enemy combatants and will not be released. The other cases have yet to be decided.

The reviews are designed to let detainees argue against their status as enemy combatants. Panels — which are composed of three neutral military officers — could recommend the release of individual detainees if they are found to be wrongly held. Each detainee is also assigned another military officer as a “personal representative” to guide him through the process. These review panels come on the heels of the Supreme Court’s June decision that the detainees must receive some sort of judicial review and are the first step leading to military tribunals.

Critics of the Bush administration cry foul play because prisoners are not allowed lawyers at the sessions. Some even say that the internal process is simply the military’s method to delay habeas corpus claims from reaching federal courts and drawing public scrutiny. However, even before the latest review, there have been numerous layers of review designed to weed out combatants from non-combatants. The detainees also have access to a military officer acting on their behest and the right to present witnesses or affidavits on their behalf at any forthcoming tribunal; not only is the first time in history such an action has been taken, the Bush administration’s actions are fully compliant with protocol established at the Geneva conventions. Such critics still don’t understand the differences between wartime procedures — of which this is one — and peacetime criminal justice proceedings.

In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor acknowledged that, yes, this is a time of war and as such the laws of war apply. She affirmed the administration’s right to hold prisoners, including U.S. citizens, for the duration of the war. The court ruled that all prisoners, both foreign and American, must be given some form of review. The Hamdi decision also explicitly said that the judicial review can be provided in the form of a military tribunal similar to the ones outlined in the Geneva conventions.

The gavel has fallen, the Supreme Court has ruled, and the administration responded appropriately.

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