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Guantanamo prisoners to be told of court rights

Associated Press

WASHINGTON

594 terrorist suspects held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be notified next week of their right to contest their detention in U.S. federal court and of their option to appear before a military panel to challenge their status as an "enemy combatant."

One of the detainees at the prison is a Canadian, 17-year-old Omar Khadr, who was arrested almost two years ago, accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Omar Khadr's father, Ahmed, a close confidant of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was killed in a gunfight last October in Pakistan. The Khadr family lives in Toronto.

Gordon England, the U.S. Navy secretary who is overseeing the process at Guantanamo Bay, told a Pentagon news conference yesterday that he chose James McGarrah, a rear admiral in the Navy Reserve, to be the "convening authority" who will select the panel members, whom he called a "neutral party."

The Pentagon had earlier said that Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz had ordered that all Guantanamo Bay detainees be notified within 10 days of their opportunity to appear before the panels.

The purpose of the panels is limited to determining whether a detainee is properly classified as an "enemy combatant." If not, then the detainee would be released to his home country, Mr. England said.

This is separate from a more elaborate military tribunal, which the Pentagon calls a military commission, which was established by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 and is designed to conduct trials of non-American terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay. No such trials have been held yet, although the U.S. government has designated 15 people at Guantanamo Bay as eligible for trial.

The Pentagon has yet to work out many details about providing detainees access to courts.

Mr. England, who visited Guantanamo Bay on Thursday, said he assumes that some detainees will choose not to appear before the military panel to challenge their "enemy combatant" status.

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