38 Guantanamo Detainees to Be Freed After Tribunals
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2005 After roughly 10 months of hearings, military officials announced March 29 that 38 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been found to not be enemy combatants and will be returned to their home countries. Five have already been released.
Through a process called Combatant Status Review Tribunals, military officers have been reviewing the cases of all detainees held in the military detention facility at Guantanamo to determine if they were all properly classified as enemy combatants.
"Of the 558 CSRT hearings conducted, the enemy combatant status of 520 detainees was confirmed," announced Navy Secretary Gordon England during a Pentagon media briefing. "The tribunals also concluded that 38 detainees were found to no longer meet the criteria to be designated as enemy combatants."
England is responsible for administering the process at Guantanamo Bay.
During the CSRT hearings, a panel of three military officers -- at least one a lawyer -- hears evidence the government has collected about each detainee. The individual detainees are entitled to attend the unclassified portion of the hearing and are assigned other military officers to help them prepare for the hearings and ensure they understand the process.
The five released individuals have been returned to their home countries. The U.S. State Department is working to arrange the return and release of the remaining 33, England said.
The government implemented the CSRTs in July 2004 in response to a June 28 Supreme Court ruling in two consolidated cases, Rasul v. Bush, No. 03-334, and al Odah v. Rumsfeld, No. 03-343. The court ruled that enemy combatants held by the U.S. government had the right to contest their status before a judge or other neutral decision maker.
The final hearing was held Jan. 22, and Navy Rear Adm. James McGarrah, the tribunals' convening authority, approved the last of the results last week, England said.
He said it was a priority for DoD leaders that the process be "open, fair and rigorous." At several different times media were allowed to observe the unclassified portions of hearings.
The secretary stressed that the detainees are not being held as a punishment, but to keep the from "continuing to fight against the United States and its coalition partners in the ongoing global war on terrorism."
The Defense Department has a responsibility to protect U.S. citizens, he said, adding that DoD has been working to balance the risks to the United States with the rights of the detainees.
"It is fair; it's equitable," he said. "We actually bend over to the benefit of the detainee. I think we go as far as we possibly can for the detainee to provide any data they also wish to provide.
"So it's as fair and balanced as we can possibly make it," he added.