Officials Try to 'Strike Right Balance' in Releasing Terror War Detainees
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2004 U.S. officials are balancing individual rights against the need to protect American citizens in determining who to release from custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"This is a very difficult process we're in. We don't want to let people out who will come back, fight and kill Americans or anyone else in the world," Navy Secretary Gordon England said in a Pentagon press conference today. "At the same time, we are trying to strike the right balance in terms of their rights and their freedoms."
Proceedings began last week to hold Administrative Review Boards for the roughly 550 enemy-combatant detainees held at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay. The boards are designed to determine if each detainee is still a threat to the United States or holds any information vital to U.S. intelligence interests. If not, the individuals would be returned to the custody of their home countries or released in their home countries.
But officials are concerned about releasing individuals who could still prove dangerous to Americans or American interests. "We do not want to release someone who will return to the battlefield to fight Americans and our allies," he said. "And this is the dilemma we have trying to strike a right balance."
England echoed comments made by President Bush in response to a reporter's question earlier in the day. "You've got to understand the dilemma we're in," Bush said at a wide-ranging end-of-year press conference at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building here. "These are people that got scooped up off a battlefield attempting to kill U.S. troops. And I want to make sure before they're released that they don't come back to kill again."
The president said the government has an obligation to protect American people and "to make sure that we understand the nature of the people that we hold, whether or not there's possible intelligence we can gather from them that we could then use to protect us."
Releasing individuals is not without risk. To date, officials have released more than 200 individuals from Guantanamo Bay through several vetting procedures that determined they were no longer a threat. At least 12 of them have since "returned to terrorism," England said.
The secretary said that sometimes it's difficult to determine who among the detainees might return to fighting. "These are hard decisions. Every case is a different case, different set of data, different detainee, different countries," he said. "It's very, very hard to correlate this with someone's intent to return (to terrorism). So it's a dilemma.
"You don't want to release people who could harm Americans or other people. On the other hand, people do have rights," he added. "And so we try to make a right decision here, but they're hard decisions."