OARDEC provides recommendations to Deputy Secretary of Defense

Story by Army Sgt. Sarah Stannard
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Oct. 29, 2007 – Over-sized black leather chairs stand in stark contrast with the large American flag that frames them. Seated in those chairs are the three members of a military tribunal panel. The flag serves as a reminder to them of the American service members and civilians who have given their lives – fighting an ambiguous enemy – in the Global War on Terror.

Navy Capt. Ted Fessel, officer in charge of JTF Guantanamo Office of Military Commissions. (JTF Guantanamo photo by Army Sgt. Sarah Stannard)

It also reminds the panel of the values – duty, respect and integrity – to which all service members must subscribe. The Guantanamo Bay tribunal rooms, which house both Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) and Administrative Review Boards (ARB), are an important tool for Guantanamo’s Office of the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC).

It is in these rooms that three field grade officers convene to examine both classified and unclassified evidence regarding the detention of enemy combatants who were intercepted on the battlefield and detained by Joint Task Force Guantanamo. Both processes are administrative. Though it is not technically a legal proceeding, a CSRT board requires one member to be a judge advocate general. Likewise, an ARB will seat one officer whose specialty is in intelligence.

The set processes by which CSRTs are conducted were established on July 7, 2004 out of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Based on Hamdi, the court ruled that upon initial arrival of detainees to Guantanamo Bay, individuals would be given an opportunity to be heard by a military tribunal. “This process is a non-adversarial, administrative proceeding to determine whether each detainee in the control of the Department of Defense meets the criteria to be designated as an enemy combatant and permits the detainee an opportunity to contest such a designation,” said Navy Capt. Ted Fessel, OARDEC officer-in-charge.

The Office of Administrative Review of Detention of Enemy Combatants board rooms house both the Annual Review Boards (ARB) and Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) for detained enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Conducted annually, ARBs seek to determine if enemy combatants still pose a threat to the U.S., while CSRTs seek to determine if detainees meet the criteria to be labeled enemy combatants. (JTF Guantanamo photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Billings)

The ARB is designed to answer an entirely different set of questions. The ARB seeks to decide if the enemy combatant continues to pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies, and whether the enemy combatant offers any intelligence value to the U.S. Based on the review of evidence, the board then proposes one of three recommendations: release of the enemy combatant, transfer of the enemy combatant to his home country or a third-party nation or continued detention of the enemy combatant in the custody of the U.S.

Established May 11, 2004 by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the ARB process provides detainees here an opportunity to have all evidence in their cases (both classified and unclassified) reviewed each year. Providing only a recommendation on the status of detention, the board members review the facts and offer their findings to the designated civilian official (DCO), the Hon. Gordon England, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense. England then makes the final determination whether to release, transfer or continue to detain the enemy combatant in question.

Having conducted 577 CSRTs and 965 ARBs since 2004, OARDEC has recommended 195 enemy combatants for transfer and 52 for release. Overall, approximately 400 detainees have been transferred or released to date. The DCO has approved 199 enemy combatants for either transfer or release based on this process. Both of these procedures were updated by the Deputy Secretary of Defense following the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005.

The OARDEC, which is staffed by military members from the Navy, Air Force, Marines and Army, allows both members of the press and designees from the International Association of the Red Cross to attend unclassified portions of proceedings. The Department of Defense releases the unclassified summaries, an audio recording of the proceedings and the written transcripts.