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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 22:43 GMT
No POW rights for Cuba prisoners
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay
Rumsfeld: Confident prisoners are well treated
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has insisted that al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects being held at the Guantanamo base in Cuba will not be given prisoner of war status.

Speaking during a visit to the camp along with four other US senators, Mr Rumsfeld told reporters that the war against terrorism required a new way of thinking and new concepts.

Wire cells at Guantanamo
One expert has called the camp a "kennel"
He said the purpose of his visit was not to check on the conditions of the prisoners but to thank the American troops presently guarding them.

"I have absolutely full confidence in the way the detainees are being handled and treated," he said.

It was the first inspection of the detention camp by Mr Rumsfeld, who has been one of the most outspoken defenders of the conditions at the facility.

The American authorities insist the detainees are being treated humanely in spite of international criticism of the camp.

Prisoner rights

Mr Rumsfeld's visit followed that of a group of Congressmen who toured the detention centre on Friday and said they were happy with the way the inmates were being held.

They were echoed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said the US had nothing to apologise for.

Mr Cheney said that, in fact, the detainees were probably being treated better than they deserve.

The remarks were intended as a response to continuing debate about the legal status of the prisoners, and whether they should be granted prisoner of war rights under the Geneva Convention.

I have absolutely full confidence in the way the detainees are being handled and treated

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Recognised prisoners of war have to be charged or repatriated at the end of a conflict, and they are expected to give only their name, rank and number when questioned.

Mr Rumsfeld insisted they could not be treated as POWs.

He told reporters that the al-Qaeda prisoners did not belong to an army, or wear distinguishable uniforms and insignia - they were people engaged in attacks on civilians.

The United States, he continued, did not go in pursuit of a regular army or a navy in Afghanistan.

The defence secretary said new realities called for new concepts - the war on terrorism required new "templates" in the way things were perceived.

But according to US media reports, Secretary of State Colin Powell wants the US to restate its position, making clear the detainees, though not prisoners of war, are still covered by the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

State shift

US newspapers said the reason for the shift is that the State Department wants to ensure that any US irregular troops captured would also be covered by the Convention.

The Washington Times quotes a memo from President Bush's legal adviser which says that Mr Powell wants Mr Bush to reconsider his 18 January decision to term the prisoners "illegal combatants" - a new term which is unknown in international law.

Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay
The US says it is not mistreating the prisoners
"Specifically, he has asked that you conclude that GPW - the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War - does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taleban," the memo from White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales is quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office has named two more Britons being held at the camp.

Asif Iqbal, 20, and Shafiq Rasul, 24, are alleged to belong to a fanatical Islamic group based in the West Midlands and travelled to Afghanistan to fight days after 11 September. They are being held alongside at least one other British man.

The BBC's Nick Bryant
"There are signs of a growing rift within the Bush administration"
See also:

23 Jan 02 | Americas
Grim life at Guantanamo
22 Jan 02 | Americas
Judge's 'doubts' over Cuba prisoners
22 Jan 02 | Americas
ICRC cautions US over pictures
21 Jan 02 | Media reports
US on trial over prisoners in Cuba
20 Jan 02 | Americas
In pictures: Camp X-Ray prisoners
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
27 Jan 02 | Europe
Russia closes Cuba base
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