The Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which determine whether or not a detainee can be qualified as an enemy combatant, will be held at Guantanamo Bay without media coverage, Bryan Whitman, a DoD spokesman, told reporters. There is no time limit for the completion of the tribunals, but all 14 high-value detainees will go through the process, as all other detainees at Guantanamo Bay have, he said.
In an effort to be transparent in dealings with detainees, DoD will provide transcripts of the tribunals as they are completed, Whitman said. He noted that these transcripts will have to be edited to remove information that could be dangerous to national security.
Security concerns exist, "given the nature of these individuals and the information that will be necessary as a part of these combatant status review tribunals," Whitman said, adding that the proceedings will have to be provided to the "in a redacted form."
A senior defense official, speaking on background, said that the information presented in the CSRTs is unclassified, but the concern is that the detainees, when given the chance to speak, will reveal information relevant to U.S. concerns and activities. This is the first time CSRT hearings have not been open to media coverage, he acknowledged.
"The goal of the department and the United States government here is to be as transparent as possible," Whitman said, addressing the same issue. "But I think everybody recognizes that these individuals are unique for the role that they have played in terrorist operations and in combat operations against U.S. forces. So obviously, we're going to have to look at information that's presented by them in their combatant status review tribunals to ensure that we're protecting information that's important to national security."
The 14 high-value detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, were transferred Sept. 6, 2006, from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay. At the time, President Bush said that Mohammed is believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Abu Zubaydah smuggled al Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan at the start of the U.S. military action there in late 2001, and bin al-Shibh helped Mohammed plan the Sept. 11 attacks.
The U.S. government established the CSRT process at Guantanamo Bay as a result of a June 2004 Supreme Court decision in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who challenged his detention at Guantanamo Bay. Between July 2004 and March 2005, DoD conducted 558 CSRTs at Guantanamo Bay. At the time, 38 detainees were determined to no longer meet the definition of enemy combatant, and 520 detainees were found to be enemy combatants.
Also today, DoD announced the completion of the second round of annual administrative review boards at Guantanamo Bay. The boards, which ran from Jan. 30, 2006, to Dec. 6, 2006, resulted in 55 recommendations for transfer and 273 recommendations for continued detention.
Administrative review boards are review processes that provide detainees an opportunity to appear before and present information to a three-member board of military officers. The board members make a decision about the detainees' status based on the current threat assessment and intelligence value of each detainee.
In 2006, 111 detainees were either released or transferred from Guantanamo, resulting in a cumulative total of about 390 releases and transfers since 2002. About 385 detainees are at Guantanamo now, more than 80 of whom have been designated for release or transfer, pending discussions with other nations or pending resolution of litigation in U.S. courts, DoD officials said.
More detainees have now been released or transferred from Guantanamo Bay than remain there in custody, said a senior defense official speaking on background. Determinations about the continued detention or transfer of detainees are based on the best information and evidence available at the time, both classified and unclassified, he said.
"Our goal is to balance the safety and security of the American people and our coalition partners with our desire not to be the world's jailer," the official said. "The ARB process presents an effective way for the U.S. government to achieve a balance between the risk posed by these detained enemy fighters and the government's desire not to hold these individuals any longer than necessary."