The detainees would also be informed of their option to appear before a military panel to challenge their status as "enemy combatants," Navy Secretary Gordon England said on Friday.

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, England said.

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

US has held most of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay without charges for more than two years on grounds that they are "enemy combatants" with no right to contest their detention in US courts.

Court ruling

It hastily added the panel process this week in response to last week's Supreme Court decisions that said all such detainees have a right to contest their cases in a civilian court.

Human rights groups have challenged the Bush administration's position that the detainees can be held indefinitely without being charged.

The 594 men being held are from 40 countries and speak 17 different languages. England said the names of those who choose to go before a military panel to challenge their status as "enemy combatants" probably will not be made public.

The Pentagon has yet to work out details about providing detainees access to civilian courts and lawyers.

England said he assumes that some detainees will choose not to appear before the military panel to challenge their status and that the entire process can be completed within four months.

Each panel will have three "neutral" military officers, of which one must be a military lawyer. None of the three is to have been involved in the detention or interrogation of the detainee.

England said the detainees who choose to appear before a panel will be allowed to call witnesses, if that is deemed a reasonable request. He said he doubted that many such requests would be granted and that detainees instead would present written statements from witnesses.