Tribunal Finds Guantanamo Detainee Not Combatant; Man to be Sent Home
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2004 A tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has determined a detainee there is not an enemy combatant, and the U.S. government will release the man to his home country soon, the official in charge of the tribunal process said.
Navy Secretary Gordon England, who was appointed implementing authority for the process, briefed reporters on this development today in the Pentagon. He said the detainee in question could be returned home in days or weeks, "as soon as anyone can arrange the transport." But, he warned, the process could be delayed by Hurricane Ivan, a powerful storm on a track across the Caribbean.
Defense officials announced in July all detainees at Guantanamo Bay were to be given the opportunity to contest their determination as enemy combatants and submit evidence or call witnesses on their behalf.
England said today 55 detainees have gone before the three-officer panel, known officially as a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. Once a detainee appears before the panel, the panel votes on whether the detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant, and the results are sent to Washington for review and approval by the tribunal's convening authority, Navy Rear Adm. James McGarrah.
To date, McGarrah has approved the results of 30 tribunals. In 29 of those cases, the detainee was found to be correctly classified as an enemy combatant. In one case, England said, the detainee was found to not be an enemy combatant. England said the State Department was making arrangements for the man's return to his home country.
Few details of the case or about the individual were available. England could not release the man's home country, the source of evidence that was used in the determination, when exactly the individual would be returned home, or whether he would be further detained by his home country.
England did say the man did not call a witness during his tribunal hearing, but did participate in the process. Detainees are not required to appear before the tribunal if they choose not to.
The individual has been moved from the detainee population in Guantanamo Bay and is being held in a transitional status elsewhere on the island. He is "no longer literally being held behind bars, so he obviously has more freedom now," England said.
The secretary stressed officials are undertaking a very difficult task in Guantanamo Bay. He said this individual had been determined to be an enemy combatant in other reviews in the past.
"These are very complex issues. The information, many times, is ambiguous; it's conflicting," England said. "It's not always black and white. We know these Taliban and al Qaeda people are trained (in how to fool interrogators.) And it's very difficult to sort fact from fiction."
New evidence and intelligence information is collected all the time and now may paint a different picture from what was available in past reviews, he said. "There's more data over time (and) you have a better understanding of the data," he said. "And hopefully we can make better decisions."
The panel officers are tasked to adhere to a "reasonable-person standard," England explained: If a reasonable person were to look at all the evidence available on an individual, would that reasonable person believe the individual in question was an enemy combatant?
The tribunals began July 30, and England originally said he believed officials could conduct up to 72 hearings per week. He acknowledged today the process is going more slowly, but that it would "definitely be finished this year."
The secretary said officials wanted to get the process completed as soon as possible, but the priority was on doing the job right and thoroughly looking at each case. The complex nature of the issues makes for slow going, he added.
The tribunals at Guantanamo are designed to find a balance between each detainee's rights and the need to protect America from terrorist threats, he said. And the information reviewed during the tribunal process has confirmed what U.S. officials in and out of DoD have been saying since they started holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay: "We do know we have a lot of very bad people at Gitmo," England said, using a common nickname for the base.
"It is a reminder for us of this threat to America," he said.
England pointed out that 150 detainees have been released from Guantanamo Bay, either because they were determined to not be enemy combatants or they were determined to no longer be threats to the United States. But, he noted, some of those individuals have subsequently been captured again fighting U.S. forces.
"We do not want to keep anyone that we shouldn't keep," he said. "But keep in mind, every time we release someone there is some risk to this."