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Guantanamo Detainees Notified They Can Contest Enemy Combatant Status - 2004-07-16

The Pentagon says all of the nearly 600 detainees being held at a U.S. Naval base in Cuba have now been notified of their opportunity to contest their status as enemy combatants, and to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. The first detention hearings for people picked up by the U.S. military in Afghanistan could begin as early as next week.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that the Guantanamo detainees are entitled to hearings to challenge their classification as enemy combatants and to contest their detentions in civilian court. Those rulings in part, led the Pentagon to begin these hearings.

"So, the very first hearing should be this coming week," said Navy Secretary Gordon England, who is in charge of the review process. He says more than 90 percent of the Guantanamo detainees have responded positively to being told they are eligible for a hearing.

"That is, most of the people who received this information listened, read and asked questions," he said, "and their most commonly asked questions were, 'When can I meet with my personal representative?,' and 'When will the tribunal process begin?'"

Others, he says, crumbled up their notification papers and threw them on the floor. Detainees who choose to go through the review process will be appointed personal representatives by the military, but initially at least, not lawyers.

If a panel of military officers rules a detainee is not an enemy combatant, the Pentagon says, that detainee would be free to return home. But legal and human rights groups have expressed concern about the fairness of the process and about the detainees' lack of access to legal advice.