The U.S. military will begin hearings at Guantanamo Friday to formally determine whether 14 particularly well-known detainees are 'enemy combatants.' The 14 men arrived at the facility in September from secret U.S. prisons elsewhere. The defense department also announced Tuesday that an additional 55 Guantanamo detainees have been approved for transfer to other countries. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Officials say the 14 men will each have a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, a process all the other detainees who have been held at Guantanamo have already been through. But unlike the others, these hearings will not be open to media coverage. Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the defense department will issue transcripts of the tribunals, with some parts blacked-out for national security reasons.
"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," he said.
This group of detainees includes such well-known figures as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Ramzi Bin al-shibh, who is alleged to have been planning to participate in the hijackings that day.
If the tribunals officially designate these men "enemy combatants," as expected, they will be eligible to be charged with terrorism crimes and tried in military commissions at Guantanamo, under a new process approved by the U.S. congress last year. The commissions are expected to begin in a few months, unless a U.S. court intervenes, as happened with the previous plan to put the detainees on trial.
Also on Tuesday, the defense department announced the results of its annual review of the status of all the Guantanamo detainees. Officials said that during the past year an additional 55 detainees were approved for transfer to the control of their home countries, or other countries that have agreed to accept them. The officials say some of those men have already left Guantanamo, and negotiations are in progress with several countries to find places willing to accept the rest, as well as others approved for release or transfer in 2005. Countries must provide guarantees the men will not return to terrorism and will not be tortured.
Officials say if all the men already approved are released or transferred, it would leave about 300 men in custody at Guantanamo, including the 14 who arrived last year. The officials noted they have already released or transferred abroad just over half the 775 men who have been held at the facility, with 80 more approved to go and awaiting the results of negotiations with various countries.
Officials say the third annual series of review hearings has already begun.
Spokesman Bryan Whitman explained why the military review panels decide to hold a detainee one year, but might decide to release him the next year.
"When these individuals are looked at, they're looked at for two reasons," he added. "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. In each case an individual determination is made [on] whether or not it's appropriate at this time for transfer or release."
Officials also say they have agreed to release some detainees even though they believe the men still pose a threat to the United States, because their destination countries have agreed to imprison them or restrict their movements.
One official, who requested anonymity, said the department has confirmed that 12 men released from Guantanamo have returned to terrorism, and has strong suspicions that 12 others have done so, too.