Seventy-one Guantánamo captives will get parole-board-style hearings at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, the Pentagon said Sunday, refusing to say when the panels will meet, whether the media can watch and which of the long-held captives will go first.
The disclosure followed a flurry of emails sent after 10 p.m. Friday by Pentagon bureaucrats notifying attorneys for some of the 71 captives that preparations were underway to hold the so-called Periodic Review Boards ordered by President Barack Obama years ago.
Retired Rear Adm. Norton C. Joerg, a former senior Navy lawyer during the Bush administration, advised the lawyers that the new six-member panels do not decide whether the Pentagon is lawfully imprisoning their captive client.
Rather, the panel members assess whether continued law of war detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States, Joerg said.
Joerg offered no explanation for the late-night notices that came amid a long-running hunger strike by prisoners at the base in Cuba over their conditions of detention.
As of Sunday, the military said 46 detainees were sufficiently malnourished to require nasogastric feedings, currently conducted after dark in consideration of Ramadan.
Once the daily fasting hours are over, according to prison spokesmen, Navy medical forces offer to let a force-fed hunger striker drink a nutritional supplement before shackling him into a chair, snaking a tube up his nose and into his stomach to deliver the drink.
The International Committee of the Red Cross had been urging the Obama administration to get on with the reviews.Still, neither Joerg nor a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, would not say if the first hearing might be held by mid-September and whether theres a target day for completion. Breasseale would only say the first would be held when conditions dictate.
Also left unclear is whether the panel members will go to Guantánamo to hear from the captive, or watch by a video-link between the prison and Washington, D.C., that already exists for federal judges to hear from prisoners in habeas corpus petitions. The six members of the panel represent the Pentagon and separately the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence and the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security.
Breasseale did say that Joerg was processing 71 of the prisons 166 captives for reviews. They include:
• 46 captives currently held as indefinite detainees, a category created by an Obama Task force in 2010 of captives considered too dangerous to release but for whom there was no evidence that could justify a criminal trial;
• 25 other captives who in 2010 were listed as candidates for trials by military commissions or civilian courts.
Since then, the chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig Gen. Mark Martins, has decided to pursue fewer cases, citing a federal court ruling that providing material support for terrorism is not a war crime applicable to Guantánamos current detainee population.
Our number may be reduced if charges are referred to a military commission, Breasseale said in response to a series of questions to Joerg on Saturday. Likewise, our number could increase if convictions are overturned or charges are withdrawn.