The Pentagon said last night it would create military review panels to weigh the legality of detentions at Guantánamo, in a measure that critics said falls far short of a supreme court ruling that entitles prisoners to challenge their detentions in US courts.
In the Bush administration's first response to last week's sweeping court verdict, senior military and justice department officials told reporters yesterday that the Pentagon would establish military panels to review the detention of each of the 595 prisoners.
The four Britons in Guantánamo Bay have not been told of a ruling, the Guardian has learned.
They are among prisoners held at the prison camp without charge, trial or access to lawyers for up to 2 years.
The revelation will also put pressure on the British government to tell its citizens of the ruling when officials visit the prison camp. The Blair government risks another clash with its closest ally over the Guantánamo issue if the US refuses to allow UK officials to tell the Britons of their new rights.
"Essentially, what we did today was we announced how the department of defense is going to comply with the supreme court ruling," a Pentagon official said. He said the Combat Status Review Tribunals would go into immediate effect.
Detainees will be allowed to testify at their own hearing and - in theory - to call witnesses. However, the prisoners will not be represented by lawyers, and hearings will not be open to the public, a Pentagon official said.
"It will not necessarily be anyone with legal knowledge. The person is not serving as a legal representative," he said. Instead, each prisoner will be assigned a military officer - of lesser rank than the three officers on the review panel - to advise them on the proceedings.
Prisoners, who have been held without access to lawyers at Guantánamo for more than two years will be notified of the outcome within 10 days.
In further fallout from the supreme court verdict, the Pentagon also announced yesterday that President George Bush had designated nine more Guantánamo prisoners for trial by military tribunal.
Early reaction to the review panels from Guantánamo lawyers was scathing.
"That is not a hearing of any sort," said Clive Stafford Smith. "The supreme court ruling is very clear.
"They have a right to an independent tribunal. This is just a total smokescreen."
Steve Watt, a senior fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuits at the supreme court, said the review panels were unlikely to result in fair hearings.
It was unclear whether prosecutors would allow findings obtained through coerced confession, or how much latitude would be provided to detainees in introducing witnesses and gathering evidence to present their case.
"It doesn't provide fundamental guarantees of due process," he said.
"I think its laughable that this personal representative that will be provided at court to explain the process and assist with gathering evidence which will then be presented to military officers. Are they really going to have a neutral adjudication? I think not."
Two of the Britons released this year from Guantánamo said the US tactics included instilling a sense of hopelessness in prisoners by telling them they had no rights.
The aim was to make them more willing to cooperate.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004