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Special Defense Department Briefing with Secretary of the Navy Gordon England on Combatant Status Review Tribunals

Presenter: Secretary of the Navy Gordon England
August 13, 2004 11:00 AM EDT

Friday, August 13, 2004 11:00 a.m. EDT

Special Defense Department Briefing with Secretary of the Navy Gordon England on Combatant Status Review Tribunals

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Good morning.

 

            Q     Good morning.

 

            Q     (Yes, but on ?) Friday the 13th.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Right.  Happy Friday the 13th.  Right.

 

            Q     Good, lucky day.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Good, lucky day.  I hope it's a good, lucky day for everybody.  I hope it's not unlucky for anybody today.

 

            So good morning.  It's nice to be with you again.  What is this? I believe this is number five that we've gotten together, fifth time.   And again, if we haven't met, I'm Gordon England, secretary of the Navy but, in this capacity, Secretary Rumsfeld's designee for the tribunal process at Guantanamo.

 

              And again, a reminder that the tribunal process, this particular process, is only to determine if detainees are enemy combatants or if they're not enemy combatants.  And that's the only outcome of these tribunals.

 

            The definition of an enemy combatant is in the implementing orders, which have been passed out to everyone.  But in short, it means anyone who was part of supporting the Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces engaging in hostilities against the United States or our coalition partners.

 

            So a status of where we are in this process:  We started this two weeks ago, the first hearings.  As of this morning, we have conducted 21 tribunals.  Additionally, we have opened 150 cases.  That means they're at some stage of the process -- starts with a record review, goes through the whole process of dealing with the detainee, having the actual tribunal hearing, eventually going back to the convening authority.  So in that process, there's now 150 cases that have been opened and 21 tribunals completed.

 

            The convening authority has now reviewed four of those decisions. So as you will recall, we have the tribunal process.  After the tribunal process is complete with the three members of the tribunal, that decision, all the information, there is a sufficiency review by the recorder, which in this case is a member of our JAG, and they go through the process of compiling all the data.  That's then sent here to Washington.  It goes through one more review, then it goes to the convening authority, Admiral Jim McGarrah, and he then has the final determination to either accept or to send it back for an additional hearing.  So there's a lot that happens after their tribunal is complete.

 

            And so four cases have now been through the complete process -- that is, given the okay by the convening authority -- and in all four of those cases, the detainees were deemed to be enemy combatants.  So four completely through, 21 through the tribunal process itself, and an additional 150 cases have been opened.  And we are now in the process of notifying -- we notified State Department today, who will in turn notify the countries, I believe through the embassies here, regarding those four particular cases.  And that will be the mechanism we'll use for all of the decisions.  They'll be first vetted through the -- through the embassies, through the host countries, so that they understand the findings.

 

            Last week I was in Guantanamo.  I may have spoken to some of you from Guantanamo last week.

 

            Also last week the press sat in on the first tribunals.  We have press personnel sitting in each of the tribunals.  I'm not sure they're in every one, but they're open to the press for each one.

 

            So I witnessed one last week and I went through the processes leading up to the tribunals.  One thing I learned is that it's a harder process than we had earlier anticipated; that is, it's more time consuming just to do all of the appropriate translation, interviews with detainees themselves, having the right translators available, being able to translate the information.  Again, as you recall, we provide the detainee an unclassified summary of why he's being classified an enemy combatant so he can contest that data or call witnesses.  So this is a harder process.

 

            It's been a little bit slower startup, although we have accelerated that process.  We've only been at it for two weeks.  As I mentioned, we were going to have three tribunal teams operating concurrently.  We now have had all three of those teams have at least one case, so we now have all three teams up and operational.  We just validated a third team here earlier this week.

 

            I'm still not sure what the steady states will be in terms of how many every week we'll have because we're still on the learning curve, but we have brought in -- tomorrow we'll have more translators.  We have written a contract for more translators.  We are assigning more personnel.  Again, we do want to do this as quickly as we can, but that's the secondary.  The requirement -- the first requirement -- is do this right, so we are absolutely taking the time to do this right.  And I was impressed at Guantanamo.  This is a very precise -- it's a very orderly process, a highly professional process, and we will continue to do that for every single case.  And if it takes us longer, it will.

 

            However, I did see a press report that said this could go into -- they said an official said this could go into 2005.  I'm not sure who that official is.  It's definitely not me.  I said before this would be three or four months.  I still believe that's the case as we ramp up.  It's not going to go into 2005 unless something, you know, unforeseen happens.  But at this point we're ramping up, and we should still be through this -- maybe more four months than three months, but we are accelerating the process.  We'll put whatever resources we need to, and like I say, we are putting more of those resources in place.

 

            The question comes up regarding the -- how many detainees appear before the tribunals.  So far about half have chosen to appear before the tribunal; which means about half have decided not to appear.  People read into that various things.  I don't read anything into it.  They have the right to appear.  Again, this is based on the AR 190-8, very similar to what we would do for prisoners of war.  If a prisoner wants to contest, then they can show up before a 190-8.  Same here -- if a detainee wants to appeal the ruling, they can show up.  And we're having a hearing for everyone.  So if they want to, they're allowed to.  There's no boycott.  I mean, this is an individual situation -- some decide to, some decide not to.  But there certainly doesn't appear to be any organized effort whether to appear or not appear.  As best we can tell, that's up to each individual, and we respect them to do that.

 

            One moment, Rick, before --

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Let me finish here a minute.

 

            Also, yesterday I did meet with representatives of various embassies.  A lot of the embassy personnel did go over the procedures, the process.  I believe it is somewhat confusing, even here in Washington among all of us, to keep all of these different issues straight in terms of activities.  So we try to clarify that for everyone to understand exactly what the tribunal process is.  And then again there is this annual review board.  Recall that's how we originally started, was the annual review board.  That's still being worked.  So we wanted to go over that with the personnel, and I believe that was helpful for everyone yesterday to have that dialogue.

 

            So we continue to be very open and very forthright so everyone understands what we're doing, and we are making progress.

 

            And now Rick I’ll open it up.

 

            Q     I wasn't sure which -- half of which groups you were talking about.  Half of all of the detainees, or half of the four whose cases have been determined?  Who had shown up?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Well, I believe if you take the 21 that we've been through, I think the exact number is 11 have not appeared, 10 have appeared, so --

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Yeah, that's the specific number, Rick, about 50- 50.

 

            Q     Did you affirm these decisions or do you have any say in the final decisions after the convening authority?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No, I have no say.  No, the decision is made by the tribunal.  So again, three people.  They make the decision.  Their decision is reviewed in terms of sufficiency; met all the criteria of the order, had all the appropriate information available, et cetera. It eventually makes its way to the convening authority, who is Admiral McGarrah.  His decision is, after all the reviews, yes, this was appropriate, correctly did everything that they're supposed to do. And at that point he can either accept it or send it back for further review by the tribunal if he found it to be lacking in some regard. So the decision is made by the tribunal with a sufficiency review by the convening authority, outside my decision loop.

 

            Q     Now that these four have been determined to be enemy combatants, does that put them on any kind of fast track at all for the President to identify them as the next to go up before the military commissions, or does that put them anywhere on a higher priority list?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No.  This is independent.  This is independent of military commissions.  Again, everyone goes through this process.  What it does do, it puts them in the queue for the annual review board process, because we now follow this process, follow behind this process with another process, which is the annual review board process.  So they now go in that queue and then they will have a review to determine if they're still a threat to the United States as part of that other administrative process.

 

            Q     Can they appeal this decision?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Wait.  Right here.

 

            Q     Yes.  Of the four that have been through the process, cases completed, did they appear before the tribunals or did they choose not to appear?  Do you know what the breakdown is there of those four?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  I don't know.

 

            Q     Can we get that?

 

            Q     Could you at least give us their nationalities, if you would identify them, the four?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Not until we go through the embassies.  And as a courtesy -- I mean, we do want to first notify the host country, and we also want to make sure the host country has no issue with this because there are, you know, privacy rights.  And so as -- certainly as a courtesy to the countries, and we're notifying the countries today.  We're also asking if they have any objection in terms of releasing by nationality and the decision for their country.  So we notified -- the first four cases went to State Department today, and based on the feedback from those countries we'll decide how we handle that.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, can --

 

            Q     When will you decide that?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  I'm sorry?

 

            Q     Can you clarify for me, you said they are now on the fast track for an annual review.  Does the annual review anniversary start the day that they are found to be an enemy combatant, or does it start with when they went to -- in other words, could somebody get a review in six months, or is it one year from this date?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No, as soon as we can do it we'll start the annual review process, as soon as we can stand that up.  It does have to lag this process, certainly, but we're in the process now of finalizing those procedures.  You'll recall the very first time we got together we provided at that time the latest copy of the procedures for the annual review board.  So we have continued to refine those based on inputs we've received.  So we are continuing to refine those.  In another week or two we should have that completed, and then we should be ready to start the annual review board process for those individuals that have been through the tribunal.

 

            Q     They don't have to wait for a year from the date they are found to be an enemy combatant?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No.  Oh, no.  No.  No.

 

            Q     It's based on when they went into the camp?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  We'll start this as soon as we can.  We like to start that process and make those determinations.  So it's only a question of how quickly we can have all this organized, again making sure that we do it fairly, completely and accurately.

 

            Q     Right.  Thank you.

 

            Q     How are you prioritizing when they appear before the tribunal?  I mean, were the first four people -- did they have a gray area about them, or was it pretty clear to those keeping that they would be found -- you know, would be found enemy combatants?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  I don't believe there's a process per se.  It's sort of who's available, who we can interview, who we have translators for.  So again, it's a large and difficult process, because we have to align our people with translators.

 

            And by the way, when we talk to one of the detainees, they may call a witness, which some have, who are other detainees.  Sometimes takes another translator.  I mean, getting all this working -- so it's sort of whoever comes out of the queue at any given time, that's who we have the tribunal for.

 

            Q     Also, of the ones which have been finished with the tribunal process but which are pending review, have any of those been found not to be enemy combatants?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  I don't know, because there's really no decision until it goes to through the admiral.  In other words, until it goes through the admiral, there's no decision.  I mean, all this is in process, and the only time you know you have a decision is when the convening authority says yes, this was handled appropriately, the data is available, fully documented, et cetera.

 

            So the only results we have, the 21 through, are not -- they're only through their tribunal.  They're not through the process, and you don't have a decision till you're through the whole process.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  We have one quick -- (inaudible).

 

            Q     How much is this effort costing?  And what kind of additional resources are you using to get the extra translators and folks like that?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Well, I don't know what the total cost is.  We have, I would estimate, 50, 60 people on the ground at this point.  So we have 50 or 60 people on the ground, plus we have translators.

 

            I don't know the value of this next contract for translators. (To staff.)  Who's it being handled through?  Who's handling the contract?  Jim, can you help me?

 

            STAFF:  The Army just awarded the contract.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Okay.  Army's awarded a contract.

 

            Q     Do you know to whom, who has the contract, what company will be providing the translators?

 

            And this is augmenting -- our hope is that some of the additional translators will be on scene tomorrow.  Weather could delay that, obviously; you have to go through Miami.  So depending on the storms, it may be delayed.  But we should have additional translators, hopefully showing up in the next day or two on this new contract, to give us more capability.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, you said earlier --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Yeah, somebody --

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, what can you tell us, if anything, about these four individuals who have been determined to be enemy combatants?  Anything about their background or anything about the evidence that made this -- made -- that caused this determination to be made that they were enemy combatants?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Well, we have unclassified summaries made available to the detainees, and that is discussed in an open part of the hearing.  Press is there.  So that data -- and in fact, I've seen some reports where reporters have included some of that unclassified data.  But that's only a part of the data.  There's also a closed part, obviously, of the hearing where we look at classified data.

 

            So the objective is to look at all the data that is available, and based on all the data, preponderance of the data, preponderance of the evidence, make this decision.  So you only have part of it.  I mean, we really can't discuss everything, because there's obviously a classified part, and the unclassified is open.  I mean, again, press sits in and has been reporting on that data.

 

            Q     But you can't give us any details from the podium here that you recall that were --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No, I didn't sift through those.  And frankly, the one I sat through, I really sat through more in terms of form and making sure it was handled appropriately and -- you know, and according to the order, et cetera, more than the specific conversation per se.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that the ICRC was welcome to attend these hearings and that you had been talking with them; no decision had been made.  Have they sat in on any of these hearings?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No, they have not sat in on any hearings -- still open if they care to sit in.  I mean, they can sit in any time they want.

 

            Q     So they've decided not to.  I mean, they just haven't asked to sit in on them, despite the fact that you've made clear to them that they are welcome.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  No, it's open to them and that's strictly their decision if they want to sit in or not.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, how does the tribunal work in the case when the detainee chooses not to appear?  Is there somebody there that presents the case?  How -- could you explain to us --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Yes, there is.  There's still -- we have a personal representative for each of the detainees, and that personal representative meets with the detainee, with the unclassified -- they actually discuss it.  Some detainees ask the personal representative to literally represent them and present their views, their data.  So whether the detainee appears or not, their personal representative always appears and always presents whatever data is provided to them by the detainee.  So their view is always heard.

 

            Q     And just to follow up, these whatever, 10 or 11 that have chosen not to appear, have they all met with their permanent --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Yes, everyone --

 

            Q     -- or with their representatives, or --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Yes.  I believe that's the case.  Now, they don't have to do that.  I mean, they can refuse to do that.  They don't have to meet with anyone, again.  You know, they may decide for whatever reason -- may decide they aren't enemy combatants -- they were actually captured in combat or whatever.  So they may decide it's not appropriate, not necessary, for whatever reason.  They do not have to meet with a personal representative, and they also don't have to appear.  It's strictly up to them.

 

            And I guess the question you asked, did everyone meet with a personal representative -- Admiral?

 

            ADM.      :  (Yes ?), sir.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:   As far as we know, they did.  So no one has refused to actually meet with the personal representative, although, as indicated, 11 out of the 21 decided not to appear in person.

 

            Q     Can they appeal the decision -- (off mike)?

 

            GEN. ENGLAND:  No, they can't.  No, this is strictly a determination based on the data available.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, then at that point, after the hearing, does the personal representative always go back to the detainee then and relate to them the events that occurred in the hearing, or do they only go back to them after a final determination is made and say here is the final determination?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  It's after final determination.  And I'm going to have to verify.  I would -- Jim, you can help me here, Admiral.  I mean, after the embassy is notified, I would expect we'd go back to the detainee.  After we've notified State Department and State Department notifies host country, then I would expect at that time we'd go back and notify the detainee.

 

            ADM.      :  Yes sir.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Is that the right sequence?

 

            ADM.      :  That's how it works.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Good.  That sounds like that's logical.

 

            Okay.  I thank you.  And we'll get back together again, another week, two weeks.  We should have a lot more cases actually, you know, through completion the next time because, again, we have 150 in process and we are accelerating.

 

            Q     And just to make it clear, you said you expect these annual reviews to begin in about a week --

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Oh, no.

 

            Q     -- or a week or two?

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Well, in a couple of weeks.  We're still finalizing the procedure now.  We've gotten a lot of input to the procedures.  So we're finalizing.  Once we get all the procedures complete, signed off -- we need to staff that exercise because we're taking more people on the early exercise, so we have to get additional resources, staff that up, because again, that's also a similar process in terms of resources.  So obviously, we need to staff that up.  May take us a little longer.  But we need to first get through the tribunal process.

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

            SEC. ENGLAND:  Good.  Thanks very much.  Good to be with you again.  Thanks.  Good to see you.  I hope this is a good Friday the 13th for you.  (Laughter.)

 

            Q     I hope so too.  Thank you.

 

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