The Pentagon, responding to the Supreme Court, will create a panel of military officers to review whether Guantanamo prisoners are being held legally and will notify them within 10 days of their right to contest their detention in US courts, officials said on Wednesday.
The moves followed last week's Supreme Court decision that the roughly 595 foreign terrorism suspects held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could turn to US courts to challenge their confinement.
Bush administration officials said they believed they have created a legal process for determining the status of these prisoners that will satisfy the justices, and said any prisoner found by a newly-created tribunal of three military officers to have been wrongly detained will be released to his country.
But Amnesty International and other human rights groups called the moves an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court's wishes.
"This is a complete farce," said Steven Watt, a human rights lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Separately, the Pentagon said President George W. Bush has named nine more Guantanamo prisoners as eligible to be tried by a US military tribunal, citing a "reason to believe" they were al-Qaeda members or involved in terrorism against the US. That brings to 15 the number of Guantanamo prisoners Bush has deemed eligible for such trials, which would be the first of their kind since World War II.
Rights groups have called Guantanamo a "legal black hole," where the US holds prisoners indefinitely and with no legal representation.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spelled out the administration's response to the June 28 Supreme Court ruling in an order to Navy Secretary Gordon England.
Administration officials said prisoners would not be allowed legal representation for proceedings before a new Combatant Status Review Tribunal and said they did not know if the hearings would be open to the public.
The officials said each prisoner held at Guantanamo will be notified by July 17 of the opportunity to contest before the newly-created tribunal his status as an "unlawful enemy combatant," as outlined in the Geneva Convention. They also will be given notice of the basis for their detention, officials said.
Also by July 17, prisoners will be told of their right to challenge the legality of their detention in US courts, the officials said, although they said no decisions have been made on how to allow lawyers to have access to the prisoners.
They added that a US military officer will be assigned to each prisoner to assist him before the tribunals, but said the officer need not have legal training.
Watt, whose group represents dozens of Guantanamo prisoners and has sued for their freedom in federal court, slammed the "ad-hoc kangaroo tribunal," noting that it is appointed by the Pentagon; prisoners will be barred from having a lawyer, and the government can "use whatever evidence they choose."
"For them to say this is in accord with the Supreme Court's decision is utter nonsense," Watt said.
A senior Pentagon official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, disagreed, saying the procedures "are intended to reflect the guidance that the Supreme Court provided in its decisions last week."
Major Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon decided not to release the names or nationalities of the nine men affected by Bush's order, and no charges were brought against them. Shavers also said the men were not being given access to lawyers.
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