- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

A military review panel has found that one of the nearly 600 terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was wrongly labeled an “enemy combatant.” The man is being released to his home country.

Navy Secretary Gordon R. England refused to identify the person or his country of origin yesterday, saying only that military officials had notified the State Department, which, in turn, will notify the man’s homeland.

“We’ve also notified the detainee,” Mr. England told reporters at the Pentagon. “[He] has been moved from the detainee camp to a transition facility at Gitmo until we complete the arrangements to transport him [home].”

The majority of those held at the base in Cuba were captured during the 2001 campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Bush administration consistently has referred to detainees as “enemy combatants” rather than prisoners of war to prevent them from requesting a host of legal rights defined by the Geneva Conventions.

The review hearings are being conducted to determine whether the prisoners have been wrongly classified as enemy combatants, which Mr. England has defined as “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.”

So far, the review panel has made determinations in the cases of 30 men held at Guantanamo, with 29 resulting in confirmations that the prisoners are enemy combatants, Mr. England said.

The hearings are being conducted separately from special trials called military commissions, which the United States is using for the first time since World War II to try the cases of some of the detainees.

About 150 prisoners have been released or transferred from Guantanamo since the prison was created. However, yesterday was first time the Pentagon has acknowledged publicly that one of its prisoners had been wrongly labeled an “enemy combatant.”

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 hearings satisfy the ruling.

Human rights lawyers have criticized the hearings as inadequate on the grounds that they are being conducted by military officials rather than an independent judicial body. Also, prisoners are not allowed lawyers for the hearings.

Meanwhile, in a separate development related to Guantanamo this week, military officials prosecuting an Air Force translator accused of espionage at the prison camp acknowledged that the vast majority of material found in the translator’s possession last year was not classified.

Senior Airman Ahmad al Halabi, who initially was accused of attempting to deliver more than 180 written messages from Guantanamo prisoners to an unidentified citizen of Syria, has asked that some of the charges against him be dropped.

In March, the Pentagon dropped all charges filed against another man investigated in the once-hot “spy probe” at Guantanamo — U.S. Army Capt. James Yee, who had served as a Muslim chaplain at the naval base.

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