Video: Questions on Guantanamo Bay detainees

updated 2/13/2004 4:51:02 PM ET 2004-02-13T21:51:02

Suspected terrorists held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be allowed to appeal their detentions to a new panel that would determine if they are an ongoing threat to the United States, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday.

The panel would hear cases annually to decide whether the suspects remain a threat or could be released, Rumsfeld said in remarks to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Rumsfeld said the United States was planning to hold many of the detainees “as long as necessary.”

“We need to keep in mind that the people in U.S. custody are not there because they stole a car or robbed a bank,” Rumsfeld 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.”

It takes the U.S. government time to determine whether detainees pose a risk, partly because many use aliases and it is not always easy to determine their true identity, Rumsfeld said.

About 660 alleged al-Qaida and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are being held at the maximum-security prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, though none has been charged.

The United States says the prisoners are “enemy combatants,” not prisoners of war, and can be tried by military tribunals. U.S. officials have said the lengthy detentions are vital to intelligence-gathering and that the information gleaned from prisoners has led to arrests around the world.

Human rights groups and some foreign governments have criticized the detainees’ treatment and the lack of trials or access to lawyers.

The Supreme Court will decide this year whether the Guantanamo detainees can be held indefinitely without lawyers and hearings.

Rumsfeld said that after the panel determines whether the detainees are a risk, some will be tried for their alleged crimes by a military commission, others will be transferred back to their home countries for trial there, and those who present no threat will be released.

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