WASHINGTON (CN) – In an indication that his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will not be fulfilled his first term, President Obama has ordered a new review process of the prisoners held there.
The new process to determine if releasing detainees would create a “significant” national security risk will operate in a 4-year cycle.
The move comes just over a year after a special Review Task Force – created by another executive order that suspended all military tribunals at the facility in preparation for its closure – issued its final report recommending that 126 of the same prisoners be released to their homes or to a third country because releasing them would not created a significant national security risk and that 36 be prosecuted in either federal court or a military commission, and 48 be held indefinitely under the laws of war.
Obama’s order creates a Periodic Review Board – composed of officials representing the departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security as well as the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – which must complete an initial assessment of the status of all detainees within a year. The board is to perform file reviews of each detainee every six months and a full review every three years.
Detainees will have government appointed advocates with the necessary security clearance to review the detainee’s files. They will be provided with all information the board will use to review the detainee’s status. Detainees will be allowed to present a statement to the board, introduce information, call witnesses and voluntarily answer questions posed by the board related to the standard of detention.
Obama limited the scope of the periodic review process: “The process established under this order does not address the legality of any detainee’s law of war detention. If, at any time during the periodic review process established in this order, material information calls into question the legality of the detention, the matter will be referred immediately to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General for appropriate action.”
The periodic reviews will not interfere with the continuing obligation of the government to determine whether prosecution of the detainees is feasible and in the national security interests of the United States, a mandate the president established in Executive Order 13492 which ordered the first comprehensive inter-agency review of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay and established the “law of war” basis for their continued detention.
A finding by the board that continued detention is not needed to avoid a significant security threat does not mean a detainee will be set free. If this determination is made, the government becomes obligated to search for a suitable location for the detainee to be transferred to, outside the United States.