Annual Administrative Review Boards for Enemy Combatants Held at Guantanamo Attributable to Senior Defense Officials
BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Well thank you all for coming to our afternoon session. Just by way of opening this up, we are here today for the stated purpose that we announced in our advisory to you, and that is to talk about the completion of the second round of the annual review boards at Guantanamo, and to discuss the upcoming commencement of Combatant Status Review Tribunals for the 14 high-value detainees that we recently received late last year at Guantanamo.
So that is the fields in which are two defense experts are -- our defense officials, our senior defense officials are expert in, and that's the parameters on which we're prepared to talk about things today.
You have the bona fides of each of our defense officials, and if you need to know more about the nature of their positions, their jobs, or why they're the right people for this, we can provide that to you afterwards.
But we are on background today. Anything I say can be used on the record. But I think you'll find our senior defense officials much more knowledgeable than me.
So with that, we're going to open it up and give you kind of a review of where we've been at, and then take some questions.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. It's really great to see you. And thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be here.
I'm pleased to announce today the completion of the second round of annual Administrative Review Boards conducted for enemy combatants detained at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay. The Administrative Review Board, also referred to as an ARB, is an annual administrative review process conducted by OARDEC, which stands for the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants.
The ARB provides an opportunity for the detainee to appear before and present information to a three-member board of military officers who will recommend whether he should be released, transferred, or continue to be detained. These recommendations are based on the board's assessment of the threat a detainee may pose if released or transferred, and whether there are other factors that warrant his continued detention.
For the 328 boards conducted in 2006, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, the designated civilian official, has decided 55 detainees can be transferred -- roughly 17 percent; and 273 will continue to be detained. Transfer decisions by the designated civilian official lead to discussions by the Department of Defense and the State Department to transfer detainees.
In 2005 during our first year of Administrative Review Boards, the designated civilian official, then-secretary of the Navy Gordon England, made final decisions on 463 ARB recommendations resulting in 14 releases, 119 transfers, and 330 continue-to-detain decisions. To put this in perspective, roughly a third of the decisions were for release or transfer. Last year, 111 detainees were either released or transferred from Guantanamo. Just last week, DOD transferred five detainees from Guantanamo, thus bringing the cumulative total to approximately 390 detainees transferred or released since 2002. Currently, approximately 385 detainees remain at Guantanamo, of which more than 80 are designated for release or transfer, pending discussions with other nations or resolution of litigation in U.S. courts.
As you can see from the slide -- they're up on your right -- more detainees have been released or transferred than remain in Guantanamo today. A determination about the continued detention or transfer of a detainee is based on the best information and evidence available at the time, both classified and unclassified. Our goal is to balance the safety and security of the American people and our coalition partners with our desire not to be the world's jailer.
The ARB process presents an effective way for the U.S. government to achieve a balance between the risk posed by these detained enemy fighters and the government's desire not to hold these individuals any longer than necessary. And finally, just a few weeks ago, OARDEC initiated our third year of Administrative Review Boards, which will likely result in more transfer decisions in the upcoming months. The Administrative Review Board process is not required by Geneva Conventions or international or domestic law and provides a viable avenue for early release or transfer while hostilities are ongoing.
Today, we're also here to announce the commencement of additional Combatant Status Review Tribunals or CSRTs. On September 6, 2006, the president announced the transfer of 14 high-value detainees to DOD custody at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The next step for these detainees is to conduct a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which is an administrative review to determine whether the detainee meets the criteria for designation as an enemy combatant.
To explain, our CSRT implementing directive defines enemy combatant as an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities to aid enemy fighters.
Over the last couple of weeks, OARDEC, through its assigned personal representatives, met with each of the 14 detainees and explained the nature of the CSRT process to them. During these meetings, the personal representatives provided each detainee with a copy of their unclassified summary of evidence and further explain their role in assisting the detainee and preparing for and presenting information to the tribunal. This Friday OARDEC will commence the first CSRT hearing. These hearings will continue until all 14 proceedings are completed.
It's important to understand that the CSRT is a multi-step process that began shortly after the president's September 6th announcement. OARDEC went to work right away compiling information that would pertain to each detainee's designation as an enemy combatant.
This information was used to develop the unclassified summaries that we've presented to the detainees.
This is not the first time OARDEC has conducted CSRTs. From July 2004 to January 2005, OARDEC conducted a total of 558 CSRTs, which -- we affirmed that 520 detainees were enemy combatants and 38 were determined to no longer be enemy combatants or N-L-E-Cs or NLECs. All 38 NLECs were subsequently released from DOD custody.
Our policy is to make our processes open and transparent without compromising national security. Due to the high likelihood that these detainees might divulge highly classified information during the CSRT hearings, the U.S. government must keep these proceedings closed to direct observation. To ensure that as much of these proceedings as possible are made public, DOD will release a redacted transcript shortly after each hearing is completed.
We will now take your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: All right. Go ahead.
Q Could you go on the record with the news here, which is that the first hearing is going to be on Friday? And also, how long will this 14 -- they'll be done one at a time? Over what period of time?
MR. WHITMAN: Sure. There's two things that are significant today, and one is that we've completed the second round of annual review boards for all of the detainees at Guantanamo. The other is announcing today that we will commence with the Combatant Status Review Tribunals for the 14 high-value detainees that came into DOD custody in September, commencing this Friday.
I don't want to put a time limit on when those will be completed, but they will start on Friday. And as they are completed, as expeditiously as we can, we will provide transcripts with necessary redactions for national security to you, so that you can follow the proceedings that took place.
Q Could you elaborate on why there'll be no coverage of the proceedings, whereas there was coverage allowed of the other CSRTs?
MR. WHITMAN: I think that our Defense official covered that. But let me say for the record that there are concerns about -- given the nature of these individuals and the information that will be necessary as a part of these Combatant Status Review Tribunals, that these particular cases will have to -- the proceedings of them will have to be provided to the public in a redacted form.
Q But -- I'm sorry. There's really one more follow-up, if you don't mind.
MR. WHITMAN: Sure.
Q The point was made that the information that's being given to these 14 is unclassified. What classified information would they have that would be -- concern --
MR. WHITMAN: At this point, let me turn it over to the appropriate Defense officials to give you greater detail and clarity than I can.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The first part: every detainee is -- who goes through a CSRT or an ARB is provided an unclassified summary.
We work that unclassified summary up, and then he is provided that summary. And with a personal representative for the CSRT or the assistant military officer with the ARB, they then work through how they are going to present should the detainee decide to participate in the proceeding, whether again it's a CSRT or an ARB.
Q But my question was, given that that's unclassified information, where is the concern about that person having classified information that could compromise --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The concern comes in that in the course of the hearing, the detainee has an opportunity to speak. And so he could say something that pertains to an ongoing operation or other sensitive information that would be detrimental to U.S. interests to have out at that time. And so we want to make sure we have an opportunity to review and redact as necessary any such information.
Q How would he have access to the classified information? He has been held at Guantanamo for several years. How would he know anything about -- I mean, you haven't given him any classified information.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, first of all these individuals have not been held at Guantanamo for several years. These individuals came into DOD custody in September, and I can't speak to where they have been or their activities prior to that. So with respect to these individuals, though, because of the nature of their capture, the fact that they are high-value detainees, and based on the information that they possess and are likely to present in a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, based on national security concerns, we're going to need an opportunity to redact things for security before providing that in a public forum.
Q Isn't your biggest concern, though, that they might talk about their treatment, and where they were detained before September? I mean, that's the only classified information that might come out there.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, that's not the biggest concern. I mean, I think the concern is given the individuals -- who they are, activities they've been involved in -- they could in fact provide information that would be directly relevant to activities, ongoing activities, or U.S. concerns today. I would just simply say, it is not a safe assumption that simply because the detainees have been in custody for some time, that their information is stale. We continue to learn new information, relevant information, actionable information, on a regular basis from detainees at Guantanamo.
Q Will you say that they're not -- that you will not redact information -- if they make claims about their treatment, will you say that you will not redact that information from the transcript?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Transcripts are going to be reviewed for information so that we can make -- everything that we possibly can make public to the American people, we will do that. If there's information that pertains to ongoing operations or procedures that are still in place, it's going to be reviewed on that basis to make a determination whether or not it can be --
Q I think if you answered that in a yes or no manner, if possible, it would lay to rest the concern that you've heard in that question. Is it possible to answer that question in a straightforward way; that you will not redact allegations they make about their treatment? I think that would be good.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Why don't you let us answer -- you asked the question, let us answer it. The transcript of the proceedings will have to be redacted for any matters of national security.
Q But the question really is, what standard are you going to use to redact it? I mean, if a prisoner stands up and says, "I was mistreated. I was" -- you know, this is hypothetical, granted, but I guess I could conceive of somebody saying, if he talks about the conditions of his treatment prior to getting to Guantanamo, that all of that conceivably is potentially classified information. I mean, will anything pertaining to their treatment before they reached Guantanamo be treated as -- in U.S. custody -- be treated as classified information?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't answer the hypothetical because I don't know the context in which that information might be raised or how they would use it or what they would say. I would add, however, that we do have processes in place that if there are allegations of abuse or torture or mistreatment that do come to our attention while they're in our custody, that we will investigate those and that we do look at those and we will investigate any of those allegations that are brought forward.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Each tribunal will look at that per the Detainee Treatment Act. We're required to look at that and decide whether the coercive statements -- or the statements that were alleged to have been made under coercion and the probative value of those statements, sir.
Q So there's nothing about a claim they make about their treatment at face value that would warrant it classified.
MR. WHITMAN: I think you're asking these gentlemen to prejudge what may come out in a Combatant Status Review Tribunal and what may be necessary to redact for national security reasons. Again, the goal of the department and the United States government here is to be as transparent as possible and as we can be.
But I think everybody recognizes that these individuals are unique for the role that they have played in terrorist operations and in combat operations against U.S. forces. So obviously, we're going to have to take a look at information that's presented by them in their Combatant Status Review Tribunals to ensure that we're protecting information that's important to national security.
With respect to any allegations that may be made about their treatment, there are rigorous procedures, in accordance with the Detainee Treatment Act, to evaluate and investigate those claims as necessary.
Q Can you tell us, is this the first time these CSRTs have been held without any outside observation? Will they have defense lawyers present?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. It's strictly an administrative process, so lawyers are not involved in the process. They were not involved in the 558 tribunals that were held between 30 July of '04 and 20 January of '05, so, no, sir.
Q And in terms of -- is this the first time you've held CSRTs without --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry. My apologies. The ground rules for the first CSRTs back in '04-'05 were if you were on island, generally it was for the military commissions, you were permitted. We had 37 tribunals of the 558 tribunals attended by media, of the first 558 CSRTs.
Q What was the determination as to which ones could be attended by the media and which ones couldn’t.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: If the media asked to attend the CSRT, then they were allowed to attend the CSRT.
Q So this is the first time you've excluded the media from the CSRTs.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. That's correct, sir.
Q But wait, isn't it also true that no one knew in advance when they were going to be, so --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And we still don't do that --
Q So they couldn’t ask for it --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, if they were on island, sir, they could ask and find out if a CSRT was going on that day. And there were plenty of media and plenty of PAOs around to ask, and we were not shy about telling them that there was a CSRT scheduled.
Q But you have to be there?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, yes, sir, that's correct.
MR. WHITMAN: Most every one of you, I think, has probably been to Guantanamo, and there's probably not a week that goes by where there isn't media that are permitted to travel to and observe the operations down there. So as part of being down there, when there were CSRTs that were going on, there was an ability to attend those.
Q Can you tell us --
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go -- let's go back to Jim. Go ahead.
Q Which will be the first of the high-value prisoners who will go before the CSRTs?
And also, with regard to the allegations, have any allegations been made by the prisoners or others of mistreatment that are -- that it's under investigation?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'd like not to -- well, first of all, I won't discuss today the schedule of events of who will go in what order, and one of the reasons for there (sic) is things could change between even now and Friday. A detainee could choose to participate/not participate. A detainee who chose not to have a witness could all of a sudden decide he wanted a witness and now that tribunal's going to be delayed, sir.
And so I don't put out the schedule of -- I will tell you that our first tribunal will go down on Friday, though, sir.
Q And what about -- have any allegations of mistreatment been made by any of these detainees?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have not sat through the personal representative meetings with the detainees, sir, and so -- but if allegations are made and we have a standard operating procedure in which to handle those allegations, sir --
Q There are no investigations currently under way.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: To my understanding, there are no investigations currently under way, sir, not within OARDEC or that OARDEC has initiated, sir.
Q Have all 14 agreed to go before --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would tell you that some have requested to participate and some have not requested to participate.
Q Can you say how many have?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, sir. I'd like not to do that. Again, the entire reason is not to be evasive. The entire reason is to tell you that that could change. If I told you eight, it could be seven tomorrow or it could be nine tomorrow.
Q You could change your answers.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, sir.
Q Couldn't you tell us when they changed? I mean --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, no, sir. I mean --
Q You say it's going to start on Friday, and yet then you give us an answer that, "Well, we don't really know if it's going to start because there might be changes."
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sir, I will tell you --
Q So you obviously have scheduled something to start on Friday. Why can't tell you us who --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, yes, I have. Because it is our policy not to share who --
Q You talk about transparency and that's why we're releasing transcripts. I don't understand why the process is so not transparent that we can't know who you think you're going to give a CSRT to on Friday.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me just add that we're going to do CSRTs for all 14 beginning on Friday. We're not prepared at this point to get into the specifics of the order or the individual details about the cases. As we complete the CSRTs, we're going to put the information out about each and every case and put out the transcript with as much as possible in the transcript that we can put out from everything that went down within that individual CSRT.
Q So when this CSRT is finished, we can expect a transcript?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That is correct.
Q And does mean a week, 14 days?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would say we're talking, if I can say, we're talking weeks, not -- excuse me -- we're talking days, not weeks; my apologies. And the whole reason for that is security reviews. I do not know how long the tribunal will last, how long it will take the transcribers to transcribe, the linguists to do their work.
And so --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me say that the goal of the department is to expedite those transcripts as quickly as we can --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- to make them available to the media, to the public, and as indicated, to do that in a matter of days, not weeks.
Q And will you announce or release information about the outcome of the tribunal before the transcript is released, when it's finished, in other words -- the proceedings are finished?
MR. WHITMAN: No. The transcript of the proceeding will be -- well, let me go to the -- our experts and let them talk about it.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, sir. The transcript will be placed on the Defenselink website, but the record will work its way up. The case is finished; all the work is done; it comes up to my staff, to the JAG for legal sufficiency review, comes over to me, as the convening authority, for my administrative review, and then goes up to the deputy secretary of Defense, who designates a civilian official for his final review. Only at that time would the decision be final, sir.
Q Will you identify the detainee on the transcript -- the detainee by name when you release the transcript?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: (Off mike) -- questions.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry. I --
Q Your past precedent --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In the -- that's right. The past policy, sir, we have not. We have not identified by name or ISN, and we've redacted all members of the tribunals for privacy, sir. But --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, with the members, it's clearly for our privacy, for --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I know, I know. You're talking about the detainee. You're not talking about the board members.
We have not, sir, and I'll have to come back to you on that, sir.
Q Sir --
Q Well, when do you expect the transfer of the next group of detainees? You said 80 detainees. And can we know their nationalities?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: When is the next scheduled transfer of detainees up? There's currently not a scheduled transfer for the next group of detainees for -- to go back, we still are in negotiations with many host countries to try to reach reasonable assurances with which we could transfer detainees back.
Q Yeah, but (name deleted) said his statement that 80 could be transferred --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's right. There's 80 that have been -- a decision has been made that they are eligible for transfer. But that simply means that we now need to secure an agreement with their host country that both we can receive adequate, humane assurances that they won't be mistreated when they're returned, and we can receive adequate security assurances.
And it's not until we have those assurances that a detainee actually leaves Guantanamo.
Q (Off mike.)
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: For the individuals that have been determined for eligible for transfer, we certainly don't release that information in advance, but we do when we make a transfer back to the countries. And the countries that are involved certainly are aware of who the detainees are that we're negotiating for their return.
MR. WHITMAN: All the way in the back.
Q Hi, just regarding the ARBs -- (inaudible) -- has been going up each year for the number of people that are either to be transferred or released. Officials down in Guantanamo make it very clear that no witnesses are really brought on the island, nor is new evidence often introduced. So I'm just wondering what -- is it just good behavior that they're getting off now? Or why are they getting off now? Not getting off, pardon me, released for transfer here.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not sure where the assessment comes -- no new information is involved. Because if new information is indeed involved -- we learn new things all the time. Some detainees that had not talked before do begin to talk. That allows us to corroborate information or to refute information, and provides exculpatory information.
So there's a number of reasons why a detainee who is eligible -- who becomes eligible for transfer may become eligible for transfer. Sometimes, the information on the detainee hasn't changed, but the ability of the host country to accept responsibility and to agree to mitigate the threat that detainee poses changes; i.e., we get better assurances.
Q (Off mike) -- fact that they're not getting, or is it that -- as compared to the evidence coming in, the fact that a host country will take responsibility?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Possibly, yes, and it has in the past. I mean, we have individuals that are a security threat level that we had not considered transferring in the past. But because we have received information from a host country that alleviates our security concerns, and they're willing to ensure that the person doesn't -- they'll take reasonable measures to ensure the person does not return to the fight, then we would send a higher-degree threat than what we might have the year before.
Q Other than the closed nature of the process, do these CSRTs for these 14 differ in any other substantive way from the previous CSRTs?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, sir, they do not.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And they're under the same exact implementing directive, with the exception of the addition of the Detainee Treatment Act. So the implementing directive was updated as of 14 July, 2006, sir.
Q Can you confirm that you're going to be seeking the death penalty for these 14 --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The death penalty -- the only decision, sir, in the CSRT, is whether the status of the detainee -- whether he's an enemy combatant or not an enemy combatant, sir.
Q Can you confirm that -- apart from this process, can you confirm that the U.S. administration wants the death penalty for these people?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I cannot speak to that, sir.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's a question beyond the scope of our experts here today.
Q In the ARBs, did the boards recommend any of those for release as opposed to just transfer?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the second set of ARBs, sir, they did not. There were none out of the 328 decisions that the designated civilian official made -- 55 for transfer, none for release this year, sir.
Q So the assurances that you have to get from the governments that they're sent to is that they will continue to be detained in those countries?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we don't ask a nation that's receiving detainees back to detain them on our behalf. We ask them to accept the detainee and apply whatever applicable laws are within their country that allows them to ensure that they can mitigate the threat. In some cases they may be able to prosecute for violations of their national laws. In some cases they will allow the person to not -- he won't be held, he'll be able to go free, but he has to check in on like a parole status, check in with local police to know where he is. He may or may not be able to travel. It depends individually by each country. They have individual requirements.
Q The unclassified summary that's been given to each of the high-value detainees, will that be released either at the time of their CSRT or at the time of the transcript being released?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We'll place the unclassified summary on the website at the time that the redacted transcript is placed on the site, sir.
Q Back to the ARBs again. Of those 55 people who have been identified for transfer during the course of the past year, have any of them been transferred already or are they all included in that 80 figure that are waiting to transfer?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I don't have my records here with me. But I do believe that some of the 55 have, in fact, been transferred, since the ARB-2 actually started on 30 January of 2006. But I can get back to you on that for certain, but I believe that the answer is yes.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's correct, yes.
Q Thank you.
Q Sort of a follow-on question on that. Then of the 80, can we assume that 25 to 30 of them have been waiting for a year to be transferred, at least a year?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know that I'd go as high as 25. I mean, there are some that have been waiting for a while. The most obvious example is the Chinese Uighurs that we don't have a place where we can send them, no country will accept them, and bring them back. So there are individuals like the Uighurs and then others where they're in countries where a country might be willing to take them back but we've not yet been able to satisfy ourselves with the security assurances that they could adequately mitigate the threat of the individuals. And so we continue to negotiate with those countries to try to get sufficient assurances.
MR. WHITMAN: I want to get everybody's questions, but we only have a little bit more time. Go ahead.
Q Can I just ask about the releases, because if I can understand correctly, 14 people have been released. Well, what does that mean? What's the difference between releasing someone and transferring them? Does that mean that they are no security threat? And if so, can they then sue for compensation?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Release is -- it means that we don't ask -- we don't seek assurances from the country that we're returning them to; that they can just simply go back to that country and be released in that country. A transfer --
Q (Off mike) – why?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: For security assurances. It means we have no security concerns about that individual being returned back into the country.
And so we work with the country and say that our decision has been to -- now, the country might have their own concerns when he returns. But from our perspective, we've reviewed our information, and the decision by the designated civilian official was that this is a person who could be released, does not need to be held in DOD custody, and we do not need to seek security assurances for, he can be released. And so we negotiate with that country to have the individual returned, and we've made no stipulations at all about his return.
Q And have any of them come back and sued for compensation?
MR. WHITMAN: That's a question beyond the scope of these individuals here.
How about we'll go in the back one more time. Did we get yours? I'm sorry.
Q I'm just wondering -- (inaudible) -- if the standard, I suppose, for lack of a better word, as to what you're looking for in security assurances has changed over the past couple of years?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Have the standards changed?
Q And are a lot of these people going to third countries as well, now? Or -- again, I don't understand what changed that so many more people are getting released each year.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, it's not that anything that has changed, it's just that we're able to finally reach --
Q Do countries just decide, okay, well maybe we will take them? Or --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Or they determine -- in some instances there's an understanding of -- or between the two sides there's not an agreement on the level of threat because of the information involved, and so we work with them to provide them information so they can understand why we perceive the individual is a threat. In some cases because of activities that have occurred in their country and they've become more concerned about security threats within their country --
Q (Off mike) -- maybe they weren't the threat that they were first considered to be?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, that's what the entire ARB process looks at, is that information to determine whether or not they still remain a threat to us or not. And that's the purpose of the ARB.
MR. WHITMAN: Has anybody not gotten to get a question in? Have we gotten around?
Q I haven't had a question.
MR. WHITMAN: You haven't, you're right. Very good.
Q And if you could answer this, it would be ever so much better. Following up on the last point, how is it that these men were threats for four years and now seemingly all of a sudden are no longer threats and can be released or transferred?
MR. WHITMAN: Well again, I'll try, and then I'll let my defense officials back me up.
When these individuals are looked at, they're looked at for two reasons, okay? One is the current threat assessment based on the individual, as well as the intelligence value that the individual possesses. And those two things have to be factored together, and in each case an individual determination is made whether or not that person is -- whether or not it's appropriate at this time for transfer or release.
As you can imagine, sometimes it takes some time to get to the facts, and sometimes over time, individuals that once possessed valuable information on the global war on terror, they no longer have additional information. And so they have to be judged based on the threat that they pose and the likelihood of returning to fight as well as the intelligence that -- and information that they can provide to the ongoing war on terror.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And all that I would add to that is I would encourage you not to be mistaken that the people we have transferred have been transferred simply because we perceived their threat level has diminished. We have transferred people that we still consider a threat, but we have done that only in the instances where we've gotten assurances from the receiving country, the host country, that they can mitigate that threat.
And so individuals that go -- that are transferred out still may represent a threat; we may still regard them as a threat. But in our effort to balance between having to hold these people and having their own home countries assume responsibility for their nationals, we have decided to -- we've received sufficient assurances that allow us to say, okay, you can take responsibility for this individual.
And I will say, we have spoken to this in the past. You know, we don't always get that right. We have had individuals that we have transferred back that were turned back to the fight. We have had individuals that have, you know, persuaded us that they were an innocent bystander, and as soon as they were released, they returned to the fight.
Q Has it happened in the last couple of years since you've been doing these more organized ARBs?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Can you say how many, approximately?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can tell you that we have confirmed 12 individuals have returned to the fight, and we have strong evidence that about another dozen have returned to the fight.
Q Is that information -- does that come from the host countries that you return to? Where you do --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: A variety of information -- it comes from news reporting, it comes from intelligence information, it comes from information from host countries' law enforcement, a variety of places.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay. We got time for one more.
Q Bryan? I have another question.
MR. WHITMAN: Oh. Were you the one who started? (Laughter.)
Q (Off mike.)
Q Does he get the last question? I --
Q I -- I --
Q Yes, let me just ask --
MR. WHITMAN: All right. Gordon, you get your question, Courtney, you get the clarification, and The New York Times gets the last question.
Q Yeah, that's fair enough.
MR. WHITMAN: Does that work? All right. You're on.
Q They do control the media, after all. (Laughter.)
What's not clear to me is what kind of assurances are you getting from these host countries.
I mean, you're sending some of these detainees back to countries like Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and they don't have the infrastructure, a parole system, a monitoring system. They don't have electronic bracelets in these countries.
When you talk about assurances, it seems as if it's a bit disingenuous. So I'm wondering what the standard is for saying, yeah, okay, we now trust the Pakistani government to look after this potentially dangerous --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would say to you, A, it's not disingenuous, it's very rigorous; and B, it's not a matter of saying we trust the government to do this. That's the purpose of seeking these assurances is to see what is the teeth behind the assurances. They do vary based on the local circumstances within each country. Some countries have developed fairly unique ways of involving local villages. In a country that's a very tribal country, they've developed very effective ways of involving the tribal elders and tribal leaders to have them invested, ensuring that the individual does not return to the fight. In countries where you don't have tribal culture, that won't be effective. In countries that are in -- in the Western European countries that have more rule of -- have a rule of law basis -- that they can look at things and they use those types of aspects.
Many countries look to see, you know, if they've violated laws. A lot of these individuals that went to Afghanistan to join the fight left without getting proper documentation, and some of them have been prosecuted for passport violations and others which can be five to 10 years imprisonment in some of these countries.
So it depends on each individual country. What we emphasize is they need to do it with what's consistent within their laws and their society. We evaluate carefully, as an area -- you can see not just the Department of Defense but an interagency process evaluates the merits of those assurances to ensure that they have the adequate assurances allowed to transfer someone back.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And we also evaluate the track record of those detainees that we have sent back. Have they kept to their assurances that they agreed upon, and that may affect the next transfer from that particular country.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney.
Q I just want to make sure I understand how this is going to proceed. So the first CSRT will be Friday, but we don't know who it's going to be and we won't be told who it is once transcript comes out, correct? So essentially, maybe two weeks from now we'll just get a release that says the transcript is now posted, and the redacted form and the unclassified summary is there. And then over the next span of weeks or months, we'll just continue to get these transcripts that don't identify the high-value detainee, correct? We won't have any kind of heads up with when they're occurring or who they are in any fashion, right?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, that's -- let me just address that a second, and then I'll let these guys help me out.
First of all, that's why we're having this session today is that we do want to be as transparent as possible. We do want to tell you that these are starting for these 14 individuals.
With respect to the redactions, our transcripts will be redacted in accordance with the same procedures that we've used for other CSRTs when we've released the hearings on those, the ARBs. It would be best, I agree, if we could just release everything, but there are things that as the government, as responsible officials that have looked at this, have determined that based on these individuals there is a high likelihood that there will be discussions in those CSRTs that for national security reasons we're going to have to continue to protect some of that information.
The transcripts we will make available with the unclassified summaries as expeditiously as we can, because, again, our principle is still that we want you to be able to have the opportunity to report on and to inform the general public at large as to these proceedings and what we have found with respect to why these individuals are still considered to be enemy combatants.
Q But the individual won't be identified, correct?
Q Why not? Why can't the individual be identified?
Q I mean, if the classified information is being redacted, then why -- I mean, I think in the last -- that big document dump that you guys did -- it --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q -- where everyone was listed by their numbers, their prisoner numbers or whatever it is --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So you can match --
Q -- they later matched them up with the number and the name, so we could find out.
I mean, if something like this could -- that can happen --
Q -- it's difficult to report on somebody that you can't identify.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: At the present time, we're going to go with the original process, which was that we put everything out and then -- without identification by the individuals. And at the present time, that's the intended plan.
Q But why --
Q Is there talk of changing that?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, we'll take a look at that. How's that for you? I'll take a look at it and see if there's something that can be done with respect to that.
Q I mean, clearly these people's names are in the public domain, and they have -- you know, their names are out there --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: A couple of them have been.
Q I mean, unless there's a chance that they're going to be released, I don't know -- from custody --
MR. WHITMAN: Well, why don't you let us take a look at that and see if there's something we can do?
And finally -- the last word.
Q Just to clarify, first of all that the CSRT --
MR. WHITMAN (?): I thought The New York Times -- (off mike).
Q But this is a clarification.
MR. WHITMAN (?): Okay.
Q The CRST is a prerequisite for going to the reason-to- believe and military commissions part. That's one. And two, I forgot. So answer one, and I'll think about it.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Every detainee in Guantanamo will go through a CSRT.
Q Right. But is that required for the rest of the process to go forward?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. It's not a prerequisite.
Q Okay. And then the other question is, in the unlikely event that any of these is determined in the CSRT not to be an enemy combatant, they would be released immediately? Is that the procedure?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: If they're determined to be no longer an enemy combatant, they would be released as the others were, yes.
Q So the president can declare them eligible now without going through this process that we discussed?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No.
Q I thought he said it wasn't a prerequisite.
Q Yeah, he said it's not a prerequisite.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Did he? Oh, okay, fair enough.
Q I just wanted to clarify what he said.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There has been, on the -- he asked about the 14, right?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There have not been formal charges brought and appointments made about the 14 for a military commission.
Q I understand that.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The CSRT process solely determines are they an enemy combatant or not. Okay? If they are not an enemy combatant, then the process is to release those individuals. If they are an enemy combatant, then they become eligible for -- (off mike) -- or they become eligible for a military commission.
Q Okay, so then it is a prerequisite for becoming eligible for a military commission. You have to have your CSRT first and be determined to be a combatant.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I guess the word I'm hung up with is "prerequisite," because we don't link them as one of the requirements. But the process is, yes, you get your CSRT first, and then if you are found to be an enemy combatant, then you have additional processes which you are eligible for after that.
Q So no one can be charged in a commission unless they've gone through the CSRT and be determined firstly to have been an enemy combatant.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That gets to a commission question about --
MR. WHITMAN: That's the process currently taking place. Whether or not it's an actual requirement, that would take a legal person here to make that judgment.
Now, I have said it's the last question about four or five times, but I want everybody here to leave satisfied. So is there something that we've left out that you just have to ask? You've been very respectful, and I want to be respectful of you if there's something that we've missed.
Q Can you just say some countries who these people have been transferred to, just list some countries?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: To where transfers have already occurred?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Those are some. There's been many more than that, but those are some.
MR. WHITMAN: I just want to thank all of you.
I know that there are some people here that follow this issue very closely and specifically. And we appreciate all the work that you do in bringing some understanding to this to the American people, because it is a complicated issue. And we appreciate your interest and expertise in the field, too.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2007, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES. FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT (202)347-1400.