By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007
All 14 high-value detainees who were transferred out of the CIA's secret prisons and into the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last September have been deemed "enemy combatants" after their status tribunal hearings held earlier this year, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
While mostly a formality for this group of detainees -- which includes Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- the official status could now give them access to civilian lawyers. Current law gives the detainees the opportunity to challenge the tribunal findings in U.S. federal court, as other Guantanamo detainees have begun to do.
To date, the only outsiders who have met with the 14 detainees since they were captured are members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who have interviewed the men and have passed a report to top U.S. officials criticizing their harsh treatment while in the CIA facilities. The men are now held in a secure facility at Guantanamo, which is part of a U.S. military base.
The "enemy combatant" term has come under legal scrutiny in recent months as military judges have determined that only "unlawful enemy combatants" can go to trial before military commissions. Because the Combatant Status Review Tribunals that determine the status only have two choices -- "enemy combatant" or "no longer enemy combatant" -- it is unclear if these men can be tried at military commissions without a change in the law or a newly designed review.
Military prosecutors have indicated they would like to try at least some of the high-value detainees, but so far only one detainee has gone through the military commissions process, and he entered a plea before the trial started.
Also yesterday, Pentagon officials announced the transfer of six detainees out of Guantanamo Bay to the custody of their home countries. Five detainees were returned to Afghanistan and one to Bahrain -- the final Bahraini detainee at Guantanamo. There are approximately 355 detainees who remain at the facility, 80 of whom have been cleared for release or transfer. The Bush administration has been working to reduce the population at Guantanamo as it seeks options for closing the facility.