Washington The military will review the individual cases of the 595 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to determine whether they are legally held, the government said Wednesday.
Officials described it is an attempt to prepare for expected challenges in civilian courts. The move comes in response to a Supreme Court's decision last week that said those prisoners could go before a federal judge to seek their freedom.
The Bush administration believes the military reviews will provide them some grounding when the prisoners head to court: The government can claim it was providing due process in determining whether they are legally held as an enemy combatant.
If the review determines a prisoner is not lawfully held, he will be released to his home country, according to officials with the Justice and Defense departments who announced the reviews.
Within 10 days, the prisoners will be informed of their new rights and the Supreme Court ruling in a note written in their own language, according to a memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that was provided to reporters.
A panel of three military officers with no previous connection to the prisoner will hear each prisoner's case. At least one officer will be a military lawyer.
The prisoner can choose to participate and present information in his defense, even calling witnesses; his case will be reviewed regardless of his participation.
He will be assigned a military officer who is not a lawyer to act as a personal representative, the officials said, and will have access to an interpreter.
The officer will have access to classified information about the prisoner. It was not immediately determined whether the officer will be required to turn over information the prisoner might disclose that could work against him, the officials said.
The panels will operate on the presumption is the government is properly detaining the prisoners. Officials did not describe what would constitute proof of an illegal detention.
The military has yet to work out many of the details about how it will provide detainees access to civilian courts and lawyers. The new military reviews will take place before any civilian hearing.
Officials said they expected the review panels to begin meeting soon at the Cuban base. They will be overseen by Navy Secretary Gordon England.
The reviews are the third formal procedure announced by the military to determine the prisoners' fate. Prisoners also will have annual reviews to determine whether they are still a threat, and they could be released or sent to their home government if it is determined they are not.