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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 15:16 GMT
Geneva Convention to cover Taleban
Prisoners shackled and kneeling
The US Government insists that detainees are being treated humanely
US President George W Bush has decided that the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war will apply to captured Taleban soldiers in Afghanistan but not to al-Qaeda fighters.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, however, that neither Taleban soldiers nor al-Qaida fighters detained in Afghanistan at the US base in Guantamano Bay in Cuba would qualify as prisoners-of-war - because they had not carried arms openly or been part of a recognisable military hierarchy.

Under the convention, prisoners-of-war are entitled to remain silent under interrogation, giving only their names, ranks and serial numbers.

The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said that although the United States did not recognise the Taleban as a legitimate government, it had decided to apply the Geneva Convention because Afghanistan was a signatory of the treaty.

"Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist group and cannot be considered a state party to the Geneva Convention," Mr Fleischer said.

The Bush administration has been heavily criticised for the treament of some 150 prisoners transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay.

Despite the administration's decision on designation, Mr Fleischer said, there will be no difference in how the two groups of prisoners are treated.

"It will not change their material life on a day to day basis. They will continue to be treated well, because that's what the United States does," Mr Fleischer said.

The United States has always insisted that the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay are being detained in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Mr Fleischer said the International Committee of the Red Cross would be allowed to visit each detainee privately - and they would be give three meals a day, medical treatment and the opportunity for religious worship.

But he said al-Qaeda detainees would not be subject to the convention's rules because they were simply members of an international terrorist organisation that had not signed the agreement.

Officials in Washington suggested that Mr Bush's decision to invoke the conventions was aimed at ensuring that American soldiers captured in Afghanistan would be entitled to the same rights.

The BBC's Richard Lister
"We can't film anything that might identify them"
International relations expert Adam Roberts
"The United States is entitled to take prisoners in this war"
See also:

22 Jan 02 | Americas
Court challenge to US detentions
22 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK would oppose death penalty
17 Jan 02 | Americas
Life in a Guantanamo cell
21 Jan 02 | Americas
US sedates terror suspects
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
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