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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 13:30 GMT
Head to head: Guantanamo prisoners
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners being held under maximum security at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba are being treated humanely.

However, the Pentagon says the detainees are not prisoners of war (POWs) protected by the Geneva Conventions and describes them as "unlawful combatants" instead.

Human rights groups and some British parliamentarians insist that the detainees should be treated as POWs.

BBC News Online asked Amnesty International and defence analyst Jay C Farrar of the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington, who once worked for the US National Security Council and the Pentagon, to present their arguments.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International considers those held in Guantanamo are presumed to be prisoners of war.

If there is any doubt about their status, it is not the prerogative of the US secretary of defence or any other administration official to make this determination.

According to Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention, the US must allow a "competent tribunal", which is impartial and independent, to decide on their status.

This is also the position held by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the most authoritative interpreter of the Geneva Conventions.

The rules that apply to the conflict in Afghanistan, involving the US and its allies on one side and the Taleban and al-Qaeda on the other, are those regulating international armed conflict.

The Taleban were the de facto government of Afghanistan at the start of the conflict.

The conflict is ongoing and involves the same parties on each side, so the same legal standards continue to apply.

Jay C Farrar, Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington DC

The individuals currently being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should not be considered prisoners of war, or criminals under any accepted civil or military definition of those terms.

These "detainees", as they are labelled, skirted international norms and abandoned their rights as sovereign nationals when they chose to participate in the stateless pursuit of terrorism.

The sole purpose for their membership in the terrorist network was to kill and injure non-combatants in a deceitful campaign in pursuit of a goal that violates the international law of war, let alone pertinent national laws.

Their allegiance is to an individual who has declared himself an enemy of the United States, and who has deviously appropriated any grievance he thinks will generate sympathy, to justify the taking of innocent life.

Further, these "detainees" have cleverly moved from one recognised nation state to another in an effort to frustrate and evade international laws that could be invoked to hold them accountable for their actions.

Terrorism is not new to the world, but the methods the civilised world chooses to deal with its henchman have become more sophisticated.

Previous attempts to deal with such individuals as criminals have given them a legal status they are not entitled to hold.

In the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September, the United States has chosen to redefine the status accorded to international terrorists and their non-state sponsors.

The terrorists themselves chose their status, and the international community led by the United States will define it on their behalf in a manner that is compassionate compared to what these people did to their victims.

They are now being treated accordingly, and will be held accountable within the framework they created and chose.

Are the Afghan prisoners being treated fairly?



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See also:

15 Jan 02 | Americas
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
14 Jan 02 | South Asia
28 Dec 01 | Americas
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