Defense officials soon plan to begin holding reviews to determine whether any of the al-Qaida and Taleban suspects held at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba should be released.
Navy Secretary Gordon England says the Pentagon is anxious to begin the review process and he told reporters he expects the first detainee review boards to meet in the next couple of weeks.
Mr. England was speaking at the Pentagon Wednesday following the announcement that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has chosen him to oversee the detainee evaluations.
"Now this will be a very deliberate and a thoughtful process," he said. "It will be a balance between the security needs of our nation and the human rights of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo Naval Base."
Mr. England said that the review process will be held in secret for a variety of security and privacy reasons. But he added that detainees will be allowed to appear in person to appeal for their release. The panels will also receive information from detainee families and their national governments.
The panels, made up of military officers, will in addition, receive information from U.S. government agencies before submitting recommendations to Mr. England. He will have the final decision on whether to release, transfer or continue to detain prisoners at Guantanamo.
There are some 600 detainees at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. A handful have already been designated as candidates for possible military trials.
But Mr. England says the others will be eligible for the one-a-year reviews. More than 100 detainees have already been released.
There has been widespread criticism of the detention process with many human rights organizations condemning what they consider the legal limbo in which prisoners are held.
Mr. England says he has consulted with several humanitarian and legal organizations about the review process to solicit their views. He says the organizations include the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the American Bar Association.