Thursday, June 17, 2004

Navy Secretary Gordon England has been picked to head a review process that will determine whether to release prisoners detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, defense officials said.

Mr. England will be the senior civilian in charge of the U.S. military’s annual reviews for the approximately 600 terrorist suspects who have been captured in Afghanistan, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We’ve refined the procedures, and they will soon be published as regulations,” one senior official said. “The Navy secretary will be the responsible official for managing the long-term detention review.”

A formal announcement of Mr. England’s appointment was expected earlier this week but was delayed because further work was needed on the final review procedures, the official said.

U.S. intelligence officials have said some of the Guantanamo detainees are Islamists who belonged to al Qaeda and the Taliban movement that was ousted by U.S. and Afghan forces in December 2001. The prisoners have been interrogated in an effort to gain intelligence on al Qaeda and other terrorists.

The nonjudicial review process will allow the prisoners held at the Guantanamo base to present appeals to a panel of three military officers. Each prisoner will be given U.S. military assistance in preparing to present his case before the panel.

U.S. government intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies then will be given a chance to appeal to the panel on whether to continue holding the prisoner, based on the need to seek additional intelligence or the risk that releasing the prisoner could lead to further terrorist or paramilitary attacks.

Mr. England then will decide whether the prisoner will be released, transferred to his home country for continued detention, or kept in U.S. custody.

Officials said the review procedure is not a legal requirement because the Bush administration has labeled the prisoners at Guantanamo “enemy combatants detained in the ongoing conflict.”

The process was put in place because the war on terrorism, unlike past conflicts, does not involve formal state-to-state conflict and might not end with a peace treaty.

Draft procedures for the review were made public March 3, and the final rules will reflect public comment.

The detainees have nationalities from around the world, including Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The draft rules call for an initial review of whether detainees continue to pose a threat of al Qaeda attacks on the United States or its allies. The draft rules also permit home governments of prisoners to present information on behalf of a prisoner or his family by making statements or providing information.

As of May, 134 prisoners had been released and 13 others were sent to other nations for continued detention.

As enemy combatants, the prisoners at Guantanamo can be held until the global war on terrorism is declared over.

Unlike wartime detention in past conflicts, the review procedure will allow the detainees to make a case for why they no longer represent a threat to the United States.

The review procedure is not expected to be public because the Pentagon expects most of the information presented to be classified.

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