71 Gitmo inmates to get parole-style hearings - Pentagon

71 Gitmo inmates to get parole-style hearings - Pentagon
Almost one-half of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will get parole-board-style hearings at the US Navy base in Cuba, the Pentagon said.

Follow RT’s day-by-day timeline of the Gitmo hunger strike 

The Sunday announcement came after the US Department of Defense sent emails to the attorneys of some of the 71 Gitmo inmates on Friday night.

The messages informed the lawyers that the government has finally started preparations to hold the so-called Periodic Review Boards, which were ordered by President Barack Obama in March 2011. It was not specified when the panels will take place or which detainees will see their cases reviewed first.

Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale declined to confirm media speculations that the hearing will start in mid-September, only saying that the first panel will take place “when conditions dictate.”

According to the spokesman, 71 inmates are currently being processed by the Periodic Review Secretariat Director, retired Navy Rear Admiral Norton C. Joerg.

Forty-six of the inmates are “indefinite detainees” who are considered too dangerous to be released, but can’t be tried due to lack of evidence. The remaining 25 inmates were listed as candidates for trials back in 2010.

“Our number may be reduced if charges are referred to a military commission,” Breasseale said, as quoted by the Washington Post. “Likewise, our number could increase if convictions are overturned or charges are withdrawn.”

There are currently 166 people being held at Guantanamo Bay. Six of those are awaiting death penalty trials, while three have been convicted of war crimes. Those inmates will not receive hearings.

Eighty-six others are also ineligible for reviews as they’ve already been cleared for release. However, those inmates remain locked up because the Obama administration is in no hurry to overcome restrictions on releases set by the US Congress.

The remaining 71 detainees, who will receive hearings after more than a decade of waiting, include 13 Afghans, 26 Yemenis, three Saudis, two Kuwaitis, two Libyans, a Kenyan, a Moroccan and a Somali.

Guantanamo bay.(AFP Photo / John Moore)
The six members of the panel will represent the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security, Breasseale said.

It is unclear whether the review board members will travel to Cuba for the hearings or whether they will use a video link between the prison and Washington - a common practice for federal judges considering habeas corpus petitions.

The spokesman also didn’t say whether journalists will be allowed to watch and take pictures during the hearings, despite Guantanamo inmates seeking wider coverage in the press.

In his Friday letter to the lawyers of the detainees, Periodic Review Secretariat Director Joerg stressed that the panels won’t be deciding whether the Pentagon is lawfully imprisoning their clients, but will instead “assess whether continued law of war detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the US.”

News of the hearings comes amid pressure from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has urged the Obama administration to press ahead with the reviews.

A mass hunger strike has been underway for more than three months at Guantanamo Bay. The latest update has revealed that 75 detainees are continuing to partake in the strike.

Forty-six of the hunger striking detainees are being force-fed. The highly controversial practice is currently being conducted after dark, in consideration of the holy month of Ramadan – when Muslims fast during the day.

Meanwhile, people from around the world have also vowed to take part in the hunger strike, in support of the “Stand Fast for Justice” website.

The site is run by Reprieve, a UK-based organization which “uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.”

Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle was one of the participants, taking part in a weekly hunger strike in solidarity with the last remaining British Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Shaker Aamer, who has been refusing food for over 150 days now.

Frankie Boyle.(Screenshot from RT video)

Boyle began fasting on Wednesday, July 14, taking the baton from Aamer's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.

The comedian, who donated the £50,000 he won in a libel lawsuit against the Daily Mirror to fund Aamer's legal fund in December, is keeping Twitter followers updated on how he’s coping with the the hunger strike. 

Stafford Smith told the Guardian that British actress Julie Christie has agreed to participate in one week of the joint hunger strike, in support of Aamer.

Aamer was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and has since been held at Guantanamo Bay without charge, despite being cleared for release in 2007.