16 July 2004
Pentagon Creates New Policy Office to Review Detainee Issues
Red Cross reports to be elevated quickly to senior
By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer
Washington --- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed an order
July 16 creating a new office in the Pentagon to deal exclusively
with issues related to detainees or "enemy combatants" held in
U.S. military custody.
The new Office of Detainee Affairs will be run by an as yet unnamed
deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, who
will report to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith
--- the third-highest ranking Pentagon official.
C. Ryan Henry, principal deputy under secretary for policy, announced
the development during a July 16 press conference at the Pentagon,
saying the new office will be tasked with developing policy recommendations
for Rumsfeld on the handling of foreign detainees.
Asked if the Pentagon reorganization reflects the bureaucracy's
admission that the detainee issue has been badly handled, Henry
would only say that in a "learning organization" such as Rumsfeld
is running "you're always looking for better ways to do things."
Henry also said the new directive calls for reports issued by
the International Committee of the Red Cross on concerns regarding
detainees to be swiftly sent on to the detainee affairs office.
It will be the new deputy assistant secretary's responsibility
to convene a joint committee to review such reports, he said, and
to advise Rumsfeld about matters requiring his attention or guidance.
If the policy officers were to learn of any verifiable situation
resembling or even approaching the abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq, he said, it would "be brought to the secretary
The reorganization is also part of a greater, ongoing effort to
keep up with demands from members of Congress to be kept informed
about all investigations relating to detainee abuse in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Henry said all the reports regarding detainees held
in Iraq, as well as enemy combatants in custody at the U.S. Naval
Air Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been provided to the
House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
Henry estimated that the military is conducting around 100 inquiries,
investigations, or assessments into "what went wrong" and how detainees
could have been abused at the hands of U.S. military police. Asked
if it would have helped had the newly created Pentagon office been
in place earlier, the official indicated it "probably would have."
Henry said the new office represents an attempt to have a coherent
and seamless policy on detainees. The number of personnel to be
assigned to the deputy assistant secretary has not been determined,
the official said, adding that Rumsfeld will consult with the White
House in deciding who will head the office. "We want to move out
as fast as we can," he said when asked about these personnel issues.
Henry was asked if new cases of detainee abuse are surfacing.
He did not identify any, but did say that as the various investigations
play out "new facts are coming in" as part of the ongoing process
of discovery. Although the official denied any personal knowledge
about any specific cases, he also said, "we are in a mode of discovery
right now on exactly what went on in all aspects of the global
war on terrorism in relationship" to the detainees.
Earlier on July 16, Navy Secretary Gordon England told reporters
in a separate Defense Department briefing that the first military
tribunals to determine whether detainees held in Guantanamo have
been correctly identified as enemy combatants will take place the
third or fourth week of July.
He said all of the 594 detainees have been notified that they
can contest their designated status as enemy combatants, are entitled
to have a personal (military) representative assigned to help them
present their case at the fact-based administrative proceeding,
and have the right to seek review in the U.S. court system regarding
their indefinite detention.
Once a detainee's case is presented to the tribunal, the status
will be decided immediately, England said, and if the detainee
is found not to be an enemy combatant, he will be free to return
England said 95 percent of the detainees who have been newly apprised
of their rights have reacted positively, asking when the tribunal
will process begin and when they can meet with their personal representatives?
Asked how many personal representatives would be assigned to help
the detainees, England replied, "as many as it takes." The Navy
secretary was assigned by Rumsfeld to be the senior civilian defense
official overseeing the military tribunal process.
The written procedures for the military tribunals have yet to
be released. The procedures, which England promised would be coming
soon, will be revised periodically as the tribunal process evolves.
He also said a few members of the media will be allowed to observe
the tribunals, once the process gets under way and the pool reporters
are cleared to travel to Guantanamo.
The first group of tribunal staff is already there and getting
oriented, he said.
Personal representatives, who England said are not acting as legal
advocates for the detainees, will have initial contact with the
detainees with whom they are paired during the week of July 18.