Rumsfeld: Gitmo Guys Can Appeal

Suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba will be allowed to appeal their detentions to a new panel that would determine if they are an ongoing threat to the United States, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday.

The panel would hear cases annually to decide whether the suspects remain a threat or could be released, Rumsfeld said in remarks to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Rumsfeld said the United States was planning to hold many of the detainees "as long as necessary."

About 660 alleged al Qaeda and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are being held at the maximum-security prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, though none has been charged.

The United States says the prisoners are "enemy combatants," not prisoners of war, and can be tried by military tribunals. U.S. officials have said the lengthy detentions are vital to intelligence-gathering and that the information gleaned from prisoners has led to arrests around the world.

Human rights groups and some foreign governments have criticized the detainees' treatment and the lack of trials or access to lawyers.

"The Rumsfeld announcement reflects the intense international pressure that the Bush Administration is under to either release detainees to their host countries or give them basic due process rights," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pam Falk. "The length of time it has taken to resolve the fate of the detainees has put allies, particularly Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a difficult position because even the review process is seen as political."

Last month, the U.S. military released three teenage boys — believed to be between the ages of 13 and 15 — who had been accused of supporting the Taliban and had been held at the prison

The Supreme Court will decide this year whether the Guantanamo detainees can be held indefinitely without lawyers and hearings. The Court announced in November that it would consider appeals on behalf of Guantanamo inmates.

"The Pentagon is entitled to make these sorts of plans but all of these plans are subject to change depending upon what the Supreme Court determines about the legality of the detentions, a topic the Court is going to take up and resolve in the next few months," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "The timing of this announcement may be designed to help ease any concerns the justices have about the rights that the government is giving to those detainees."

Last week, in a victory for the Bush administration, the Court granted the administration's request to stop a lower court from communicating with a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was poised to notify the detainee of that court's ruling in December that Guantanamo prisoners should be allowed to see lawyers and have access to courts.

The Supreme Court granted the government's request to put that ruling on hold, at least until the Bush administration files a full appeal in the case.

The Bush administration said any communication with the detainees would raise national security concerns.

It has made similar arguments in other terrorism cases.

In the trial of alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the Justice Department has refused a judge's order to allow Moussaoui to question suspected al Qaeda members in detention.

And in cases concerning three men labeled "enemy combatants," the government has argued that national security concerns require that it hold the men without lawyers, without charges and indefinitely.

The Supreme Court is reviewing one of the enemy combatant cases as well.