Seventy-one Guantanamo detainees who the Obama administration has determined are neither guilty nor cleared for release have been granted "parole-style" hearings at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, the Pentagon said in a series of emails to the prisoners' lawyers over the weekend.
The emails, sent after 10 p.m. on Friday by Pentagon bureaucrats, notified the prisoners' attorneys that preparations to hold the "Periodic Review Boards" were underway. However, the messages were received with skepticism as lawyers maintained that the prisoners were essentially cleared of guilt years ago but have remained in the detention facility indefinitely.
Rather than determining the innocence or guilt of the detainees, the six-member military boards will “assess whether continued law of war detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” said Retired Rear Adm. Norton C. Joerg, who informed the lawyers of the hearings.
David Remes, a Washington, DC-based human rights attorney who represents more than a dozen Guantanamo prisoners, said he "commends the motivation behind giving these men a second look." However, he added, "The question I have is what is there that's new to look at?"
"What's surreal about this is that nobody is going to have new information about what happened 11 or 12 years ago," he said.
Remes continued, "We'll do everything we can to argue that the detainee should be approved for transfer. The periodic review board is likely to be predisposed to approval to transfer because the idea here is to close down Guantanamo. But I just don't understand how this is supposed to work."
"Because whatever process or structure you set up the government has everything in its files that it always had. The accusations will remain the same. They went to an al-Qaeda training camp. We've been through this over and over," Remes said.
"What are we [the attorneys] going to do, send investigators out to the badlands of Afghanistan to find people to admit they sold a guy to the U.S. for bounties?" he asked. "What new information are we expected to come up with to challenge the government?"
Showing similar hesitation to praise the announcement, Ramzi Kassem, law professor at the City University of New York and attorney for several Guantanamo prisoners, stated, “For the Periodic Review Boards to be taken seriously, the U.S. government should begin releasing the men that were cleared for release by the previous interagency entity years ago.”
The hearings, which were ordered by President Obama two years ago, do not include the 86 detainees who have already been cleared for release but also remain behind bars indefinitely.
The Pentagon would not say when the hearings will take place and whether or not the media will be allowed to attend.
"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," noted Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald.
Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told reporters that first hearing would be held “when conditions dictate."