Military Hearing for Guantanamo Detainee Is a First

Associated Press

Saturday, July 31, 2004; Page A24

An alleged terrorist at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was allowed a formal hearing yesterday on whether he should go free, the first time such a session has been held since the camp opened in early 2002, officials said yesterday.

The review of the unidentified detainee's status by military officials is the government's most visible response since the Supreme Court last month granted new legal rights to the approximately 600 foreign-born men held at the U.S. base.

The administrative hearing was closed to the media and the public. Cmdr. Beci Brenton, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said there was no immediate decision on the prisoner's fate.

At the Pentagon, Navy Secretary Gordon England said the hearing into whether the Navy is properly holding the prisoner as an enemy combatant is the first of about 600 to be held in coming months.

Also yesterday, the Justice Department filed a detailed list of security procedures it seeks to impose on attorneys for Guantanamo detainees in their recently acquired right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.

Visits from civilian defense lawyers must occur under careful restrictions to preserve security, government lawyers argued in a filing to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Lawyers must obtain security clearances, and some attorney-client meetings may be monitored by government agents, the Justice Department said.

"These necessary precautions do not compromise attorney-detainee communications," the government lawyers asserted.

The government also took pains to note that the detainees do not enjoy wider constitutional protections.

The day's events highlighted the back-and-forth among the military, defense lawyers and government lawyers over how to comply with the high court's ruling.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court allowed the prisoners to petition an American judge for their freedom, even though they are being held on Cuban soil. The court was not specific about how or where the prisoners could sue, but lawyers representing about 50 prisoners have taken their cases to federal court in the District.

Human rights lawyers said the military review process that began yesterday is a sham, part of government foot-dragging since the Supreme Court largely rejected the Bush administration's legal arguments in three cases about the detention of potential terrorists.

"The government is making every effort they can to comply as minimally as possible with the Supreme Court's opinion and the Constitution and to delay as long as possible the moving forward of these cases," said Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several detainees.

The Pentagon set up the hearings after the high court's ruling and has characterized them as a first step toward preparing the government's legal defense for eventual lawsuits in civilian courts.

A panel of military officers will decide whether each prisoner is indeed an enemy combatant, as the military contends. If the prisoner is not, he will be repatriated, England said. Prisoners have no lawyers for the hearings -- only personal representatives supplied by the military.