The Pentagon will move forward with what amounts to the military version of a habeas corpus hearing with 71 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, according to alerts sent out late Friday to attorneys representing the war-on-terror inmates. The Washington Post calls them “parole-board-style hearings,” but this looks more like an effort to determine just cause for confinement rather than the status of rehabilitation:
Seventy-one detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay will get parole-board-style hearings at the Navy base in Cuba, the Pentagon said Sunday, though it did not say when the panels will meet, whether the media can watch and which of the long-held inmates will go first. …
Retired Rear Adm. Norton C. Joerg, a senior Navy lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, told the lawyers that the new six-member “periodic review boards” will not decide whether the Pentagon is lawfully imprisoning their clients.
Rather, the panels will “assess whether continued law of war detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” Joerg said.
The hearings themselves aren’t exactly a surprise. As the Post notes, President Obama ordered them in March 2011, although hardly anyone gave it much weight. Obama had promised to close the facility altogether, not just give “periodic reviews” of detainee status. Even though this EO is entirely within Obama’s authority as Commander in Chief, the hearings have never taken place.
At least, they haven’t until now, or very soon, anyway, at least according to the notices provided to attorneys representing the detainees. Oddly, the White House waited until late on a Friday to send out the notices and apparently didn’t do anything to alert the media. Why now, and why so quietly? Recent events are probably the catalyst:
He offered no explanation for the late-night notices, which came during a long-running hunger strike by prisoners at Guantanamo over the conditions of their detention.
Three days ago, the Pentagon wasn’t as shy about talking of the collapse of the hunger strike. Criticized for force-feeding prisoners by human-rights groups, the Pentagon pointed to the return to normal meals of the prisoners as a sign of success for their strategy. That was the same day that the letters went out to the attorneys, which suggests a negotiated end to the hunger strike — one that the White House wasn’t keen on publicizing, either.