The U.S. government is drawing up plans to hold periodic reviews of the cases of three alleged terrorists held as "enemy combatants" in a Navy brig in South Carolina, government officials said yesterday.
Pentagon officials revealed the plan at a news conference where they also released an order by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz establishing similar annual reviews for 595 prisoners at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld outlined the procedures for the Guantanamo Bay review hearings in a speech in February. The hearings, expected to begin within a few weeks, could result in detainees being held for an additional year, released or sent to jail in their home countries.
Each Guantanamo Bay detainee will have the help of a military officer in laying out his case for release to a three-person military panel, according to the order. His relatives and home government may submit remarks to the panel for use in the secret hearings. The panel would recommend action on each case to a presidentially appointed military official who would make the final decision.
A senior military official said that under international law, U.S. officials are not obligated to establish the hearing process, but are doing so "as a matter of discretion."
The U.S. government has been intensely criticized for holding the Guantanamo Bay detainees indefinitely without legal review. Some human rights activists have said officials initiated the process in an effort to blunt a lawsuit over the detentions that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices are expected to rule by early this summer.
Wendy Patten, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Watch activist group, noted that detainees will not have attorneys during the hearings and will have no right to appeal decisions.
Pentagon officials said that within days they will announce similar hearings for the three men held in Charleston -- Saudi student Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan; alleged "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago; and Bradley University graduate Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari arrested in Illinois as an alleged al Qaeda associate.