US may detain terror suspects for years

Looks to appoint a ‘parole’ board

WASHINGTON — The US military indicated yesterday that it plans to hold for many years some of the 650 war-on-terror prisoners who are being detained without trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but said a parole board-like panel will give each detainee an opportunity to prove he is no longer a danger and should be released. In twin announcements, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in Miami and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Butler in Washington said the prisoners are being detained not as punishment, but because the United States remains in a war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates and cannot release individuals who remain a threat.

“The war goes on,” Butler said. “We are holding enemy combatants in the global war on terror for security reasons to prevent them from returning to the battlefield.”

The new policy is the latest in a series of shifts since the US Supreme Court agreed in November to hear cases on whether the prisoners may challenge their detention in US courts. Legal analysts have said the moves are intended to prove to the court that no judicial oversight is necessary.

The pattern includes signs that long-delayed military commissions for a handful of detainees may soon begin. Several have been moved to the new “Camp Echo,” which the operation commander, Major General Geoffrey Miller, described yesterday as a facility where defendants are housed apart from the general population and in cells attached to space where they can meet with a defense lawyer.

But human rights groups dismissed the new review-panel process as a hollow gesture for the much larger number of detainees who are not expected to go before a military commission. They said that under the rule of law, government officials should not be able to imprison permanently people who have not been tried and convicted before an independent court.

“What’s striking to me is that this review panel will meet annually, and that tells you we’re talking about detention for many more years,” said Wendy Patten of Human Rights Watch. “This is a regime for indefinite detention. It’s an attempt to provide a veneer of legal process on a policy that is basically unchanged.”

Speaking before the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Rumsfeld said the United States will hold many of the detainees “as long as necessary.”

“We need to keep in mind that the people in US custody are not there because they stole a car or robbed a bank,” he said. “They are enemy combatants and terrorists who are being detained for acts of war against our country, and that is why different rules have to apply.”

Many aspects of the review policy are incomplete. Butler said the military has not yet decided who will appoint the panel, whether some of its members will be nonmilitary, who will have the final say on who is released, or whether detainees will be given legal representation during the hearings.

He did offer a few details, however. “The detainee will have the opportunity to appear in person before that panel,” Butler said. “The detainee’s foreign government will have the opportunity to submit information on the detainee’s behalf. And the panel will consider all of the information, including intelligence information gained on the detainee and the information presented by the detainee and his government, and to make an independent recommendation about whether the detainee should be held.”

Butler also disclosed new details about the identities of some of the detainees being held at Guantanamo. Among them, he said, are: terrorists linked to Al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole, a former bodyguard for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, an Al Qaeda explosives trainer who designed a prototype shoe bomb for destroying airplanes and a magnetic mine for attacking ships, an Al Qaeda member who was plotting to attack Persian Gulf oil tankers using explosive-laden fishing boats, an Al Qaeda translator and financial manager who helped stockpile weapons for use against US forces in Afghanistan, and many others who received training and “continue to express their commitment to kill Americans and conduct suicide attacks if released.”

Butler said the United States will continue to release detainees who no longer pose a threat and whose intelligence value has been exhausted.

Yesterday, the US military transferred Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, a Spanish citizen from the North Africa, to Spanish authorities for prosecution.

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Feb. 14, 2003
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