U.S. military officials say they are preparing to release a detainee held at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who is no longer thought to be an enemy combatant in the war on terrorism.
Navy Secretary Gordon England says a three-person panel, known as a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, has determined that an unnamed detainee at Guantanamo does not merit the designation of "enemy combatant." Mr. England spoke with reporters at the Pentagon Monday.
"[The] Department of State has been notified about this one non-enemy combatant. The Department of State will be notifying the home country of that individual and arranging his release," he said.
The Pentagon says it will not make public the individual's name or nationality until his arrival in his home country.
This is the second detainee to be absolved by the tribunals, created earlier this year in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing the right of those held at Guantanamo to challenge their detention.
Secretary England says all but a few dozen of the more than 550 detainees held at the U.S. naval station have had their cases reviewed by the tribunals. To date, 230 determinations have been made, with "enemy combatant" status confirmed in 228 cases.
The Bush administration has refused to use the term "prisoners" when describing the detainees, many of whom were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002. The administration has argued that the combatants did not fight for an internationally recognized government, wear uniforms or conform to other requirements for prisoner status under the Geneva Conventions.
Secretary England stopped short of admitting that mistakes had been made in holding the two non-enemy combatants, arguing that some detainees fall into what he termed "a gray area."
"We do not want to let people out who will come back, fight and kill Americans or anyone else," he explained. "At the same time, we are trying to strike the right balance in terms of their rights and their freedoms."
He added that, of some 200 detainees released before the tribunals were established, 12 are known to have again taken up arms.
The Navy secretary says the United States has begun a second set of proceedings for detainees who are not being released as a result of the tribunals. He says panels are being convened to examine whether the detainees, despite having been enemy combatants at the time they were captured, remain threats to the United States today. Those thought to pose a minimal threat could potentially be released or transferred to their home country.
Human rights groups continue to criticize the tribunal proceedings, pointing out that detainees do not have access to lawyers and may not review the details of evidence presented against them.
In addition, a recent report by the International Committee for the Red Cross says psychological and physical techniques used to extract information from detainees at Guantanamo amounted to torture. The Bush administration has strongly disputed the allegation.