Review Boards Assessing Status of Guantanamo Detainees
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 8, 2005 Seventy enemy combatants have been through the Pentagon's annual review process at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Of these, 29 have been designated for release or transfer to their home country, a senior official said today.
Navy Rear Adm. James M. McGarrah, director of the Office of Administrative Review for Detained Enemy Combatants, briefed Pentagon reporters today on the status of administrative reviews at Gitmo, as the island naval base is often called.
McGarrah explained that detainees at Guantanamo Bay will have their status reviewed at least once a year in a process called an administrative review board. In an ARB, the detainees have the chance to argue their case against continued detention before a board of three U.S. military officers. The detainees' home countries and families also have an opportunity to present information to the panel.
The ARB's purpose is to determine if each detainee is still a threat to the United States or still holds intelligence value.
McGarrah noted that this review process is not required by the Geneva Conventions or by U.S. or international law. "Our ARB process ... helps to mitigate concerns that have been raised about the indefinite detention (of enemy combatants) in this kind of unconventional conflict," he said.
There are three possible outcomes from an administrative review board: release, typically in the detainee's home country; transfer of custody to the government of the home country; or continued detention at Guantanamo Bay.
"Transferring a detainee will only take place after the U.S government has discussions with the country of transfer and after our government receives necessary assurances regarding security measures and regarding how the detainee will be treated upon their transfer," McGarrah said.
Since the hearings started in December, 70 detainees have been through the process. Of those, four have been designated for release and another 25 for transfer to the custody of their home countries, McGarrah said.
To date, none of these 29 detainees has been released or transferred. McGarrah said the U.S. State Department is in the process of working with each of the home countries regarding the detainees' movement. The Defense Department doesn't release information on the home countries until after transfers are complete, McGarrah said.
Ninety-two other detainees have been through hearings for their ARBs. But the process is not complete until first McGarrah and then acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who is the designated civilian authority for the process, have approved the board's recommendations.
McGarrah stressed the process is important because the U.S. government doesn't want to hold people any longer than is necessary.
"We're detaining these captured combatants not to punish them and not to keep them in detention pending criminal charges, but to prevent them from continuing the fight against the United States and its allies, and to obtain intelligence necessary in the ongoing global war on terrorism," McGarrah said.
"It's important work," he added. "And we think it's important that we do it right, and it's important that we be thorough."