Detainee Status Review Tribunals to Begin Within Weeks
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 9, 2004 Defense Department officials plan to begin a series of status-review boards for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within the next several weeks.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz authorized the review process, officially called a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, in a July 7 order and named Navy Secretary Gordon R. England as the implementing authority.
England traveled to Guantanamo July 8 to begin working out the details. He briefed Pentagon reporters on some of those details today.
"Yesterday we identified some of the way forward," he said.
Wolfowitz's order mandated that all 594 detainees at Guantanamo be notified within 10 days of three specific things: their right to appear before the Status Review Tribunal to contest their designation as enemy combatants, their right to be appointed a personal representative in the form of a military officer, and their right to contest their status in federal courts through a writ of habeas corpus.
England said today he expects those notifications to begin July 12 and be completed by July 15, eight days after the order was signed. "We're in the process of preparing the paperwork today so Monday we can start physically notifying the detainees," he said.
Several factors complicate the notification process, which England called a "daunting task." The detainees come from at least 40 countries and speak about 17 different languages. On top of that, not all of them are literate.
England explained the notifications would be made in writing in each detainee's native language, and interpreters would be standing by to read the notification to detainees who need such assistance.
The secretary said he has named Navy Reserve Rear Adm. James McGarrah as the convening authority. McGarrah is now charged with appointing officers to serve on the panels and as personal representatives.
The tribunals will consist of three separate panels, each hearing cases on four detainees each day, six days per week for a total of 72 cases each week, England said.
At that rate, the tribunal process would be completed in eight weeks. Accounting for delays and unanticipated events, England today estimated the entire process could take 90 to 120 days.
The personal representatives must be U.S. military officers in the rank of major or above in the Army, Navy or Air Force, or lieutenant commander or above in the Navy. Each will be screened to ensure they've had no dealings with detainees operations.
England said it hasn't been determined yet how many such officers would be needed or how many detainees each personal representative will assist. Appointed officers will go through a brief training program on their new duties.
"It won't be elaborate," he said. "But obviously we need each of those individuals to understand their responsibilities, the way this will be implemented and our expectations."
He had few details on how detainees would be able to call witnesses, and said he believes most witness testimony would be in the form of affidavits.
England called the process "a thoughtful exercise" that is fair, neutral and reasonable.