Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Guantanamo prisoners get their day, but not in court

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA

Each day, several shackled detainees are marched into a double-wide trailer in this prison camp to argue before three anonymous military officers that they do not belong here.

One, a 27-year-old Yemeni, spent more than an hour on Saturday telling a panel that he was not a member of al-Qaeda or a sympathizer, saying that he had never fought against the US and should never have been detained here at Guantanamo.

The Yemeni sat in a low chair, his shackles connected to a bolt in the floor, frustrating his efforts to gesture with his hands. He alternated between pleading his case and angrily criticizing the process as unfair. Although he spoke Arabic, which was translated by a woman sitting beside him, there was no mistaking his contempt for the panel members, who sat on a raised platform and whose questions he ridiculed frequently. All the officers' name tags were covered by tape.

These briskly conducted proceedings, which are formally called combatant status review tribunals, constitute the Bush administration's principal answer to the Supreme Court's ruling in June that the detainees at Guantanamo deserve a fair hearing in a neutral setting.

So far, some 320 of the 550 detainees have appeared before the tribunals, and so far, the Pentagon has passed final judgment on 104. Of that group, 103 were found to have been properly deemed unlawful enemy combatants and properly imprisoned; one detainee was released.

Critics have complained that the tribunals are fatally flawed, not only because the detainees do not have lawyers but because they are generally hampered in disputing any charges: They are not allowed to see most of the evidence against them because it is classified.

Captain Charles Jamison of the Navy, who oversees the tribunal proceedings here, said they were administrative procedures and thus did not have to meet standards of regular criminal proceedings.

Conversations with senior military officials suggest that there is an informal expectation that after most of the detainees are found to be enemy combatants, the military will start releasing many of them after yet another set of reviews. The reviews are supposed to determine whether the enemy combatant remains a threat.

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