- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007


The 14 “high-value” detainees who were transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last year have all been declared enemy combatants and are subject to trial.

The Pentagon announced their status yesterday.

The detainees, including some who are suspected of planning the September 11 attacks, the USS Cole bombing and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, now will be thrust into a military trial system mired in legal challenges and hampered by lengthy delays.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England approved the “enemy combatant” designation for all 14 after reviewing recommendations from their Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which convened over the past six months. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not say yesterday when Mr. England made the decisions but indicated they were made over a period of time.

Mr. England’s ruling now allows the 14 to be held indefinitely at the detention center and put on trial for war crimes.

But the trial system itself remains under challenge. It has been called into question by recent court rulings, including a decision by one military judge to throw out a case against a Guantanamo detainee over the wording of the “enemy combatant” designation.

That judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, said he had no choice but to throw out the case against Omar Khadr, suspected of terrorism, because he had been classified as an “enemy combatant” by a military panel years earlier — and not as an “alien unlawful enemy combatant.”

He said the Military Commissions Act, signed by President Bush last year, says only those classified as “unlawful” enemy combatants can face war trials here.

Asked about Mr. England’s decision to declare the detainees “enemy combatants” and not include the word “unlawful,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler said, “These proceedings make one determination — and that is whether or not the detainee meets the criteria for designation as an enemy combatant, as defined in our regulations. These regulations do not distinguish between lawful and unlawful enemy combatants.”

The tribunals were created in 2004 by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court faulted the government for not giving detainees access to courts. That system was thrown out by the Supreme Court last year, prompting Congress to set up new guidelines for war-crimes trials.

The Guantanamo Bay facility has come under increasing criticism from around the world, prompting calls to shut it down. Mr. Bush, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and others have said they would like to close it, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have threatened to cut its budget.

At a White House press conference yesterday, Mr. Bush said the United States can’t shut down the facility until other countries agree to take the more than 350 people still there. “A lot of people don’t want killers in their midst,” he said.

Mr. Bush said the United States is determined to make sure the worst of them are tried for their purported crimes.



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