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Panels to review Gunatanamo detentions

From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

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This photo, reviewed by U.S. military officials, shows the the courtroom at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
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Fifteen detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, now face military tribunals.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Review panels will decide on a case-by-case basis whether detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being held legally, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The panels are being created in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that said enemy combatants at Guantanamo had the right to use federal courts to challenge their detentions.

The military will notify the detainees of their rights in 10 days, officials said.

About 600 prisoners, mostly from the war in Afghanistan, are being held at the prison camp on the naval station's grounds.

Attorneys who challenged the Bush administration's indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo said the tribunal falls far short of the Supreme Court's standards.

"The review procedures for the detainees set up by the Defense Department are inadequate and illegal, and they fail to satisfy the court's ruling," said Rachel Meeropol, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which challenged the Bush policy.

Notably, the rights center said, the review process still does not allow detainees any access to counsel.

"With all that we have learned in the last few months about the mistreatment and torture of prisoners in U.S. custody, it is now more important than ever to ensure that coerced statements are not relied upon to curtail an individual's freedom," said Barbara Olshansky, the center's deputy legal director.

The panels will be composed of three military officers and will apply only to foreign nationals held at Guantanamo, according to Pentagon officials.

Each Combatant Status Review Tribunal will conduct a one-time-only review to determine whether the detainee is correctly being held as a enemy combatant. The reviews will be held at Guantanamo, officials said.

Detainees will be given a military assistant, an officer, to help in the case, but not given a lawyer. An interpreter will also be provided.

Detainees will be allowed to present documentary and testimonial evidence and call witnesses. The detainees will not be compelled to testify.

If the panel decides the detainee is not an "enemy combatant," the case will be sent to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who will work with the secretary of state to make arrangement for the return of that detainee to their home country, officials said.

Detainees judged to still be a threat to the United States will remain in detention.

About a dozen of the Guantanamo detainees are accused of participating in terrorist attacks or of being members of al Qaeda.

The Supreme Court ruled in late June that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals held as terror suspects in military custody have the right to challenge their detentions.

But in reviewing the constitutionality of the administration's war on terror policies, the justices upheld the right of the executive branch to hold such suspects.


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