WASHINGTON – The Pentagon might release some Guantanamo Bay detainees deemed not to pose a security threat without first giving them access to civilian courts, a spokesman said Thursday.
Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said no final decisions have been made about how the government will respond to Supreme Court decisions this week requiring that detainees be given a way to challenge their incarceration.
But he said it was possible that if it could be determined some people need not be held then they also “need not necessarily be part of a judicial process.”
Di Rita referred to the Pentagon’s newly adopted system for annually reviewing each of the nearly 600 detention cases at Guantanamo Bay. Under that system, a panel of three military officers would assess each case, but the detainees would not be represented by lawyers.
“If there are people who can be released after some due process of review that we’ve established, it’s worth considering whether that’s the right next thing to do,” Di Rita said.
Separately, a group of human rights lawyers sent Rumsfeld a letter asking for access to 53 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
The Pentagon’s annual reviews are to be overseen by Navy Secretary Gordon England, who said last week before the Supreme Court rulings that he expected the first review panel to meet within two weeks.
Most of the 595 detainees at Guantanamo were captured in the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2001 and most have been held without access to lawyers for more than two years.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled federal courts can hear the detainees’ cases. The Bush administration believed the Guantanamo detention facility was outside the reach of American law.
The court also ruled that the government has the right to seize and hold what it calls enemy combatants, but cannot indefinitely detain them with no meaningful way for them to challenge their captivity.