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US Military Tribunal Releases Guantanamo Detainee - 2004-09-08

A U.S. military tribunal has found that an accused terrorist being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba can go free after determining he was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. It is the first time since the tribunals began reviewing cases two months ago that a detainee in the war on terrorism has had his designation as an enemy combatant overturned.

Navy Secretary Gordon England, the Pentagon official overseeing these tribunals, would not identify this prisoner or his nationality, at least until the detainee returns to his home country. Mr. England would also not say what information led the military panel to clear him of his status as an enemy combatant.

"The data is very confusing at times, it is very conflicting at times," he said. "It is very hard, no one wears a uniform, people say all sorts of things. It is very difficult to separate fact from fiction. And these are very important decisions, because when we are wrong, we know that people come back to fight against America and our friends and allies."

Of the nearly 600 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, about 150 have been released under various procedures that determined they were no longer a threat.

But under the tribunal process that began in July, 29 have had their status as enemy combatants upheld in a process that the Pentagon says is taking longer than expected. Most detainees were picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan and are accused of supporting al-Qaida or the Taleban.

"We have a lot of very bad people at Gitmo and it is I think a reminder for us of this threat to America and it is a reminder to all of us that we do this as right as we can," he said. "We do not want to keep anyone that we should not keep. But keep in mind every time we release someone, there is some risk to this because some people have come back, we know that."

Separate from the tribunal process, the Pentagon has begun pretrial hearings on war crimes charges for as many as 15 Guantanamo detainees.