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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 16:21 GMT
Cuba captives held 'below US standards'
The conditions faced by suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters in Guantanamo Bay do not meet the standards for prisoners in the US criminal justice system, according to experts on prisons in the US.
However, it is difficult to compare them to prisoners in US jails because the detainees in Guantanamo exist in legal limbo, not yet officially charged with crimes and not officially designated as prisoners of war.
But military justice experts say that America's "war on terrorism" is not only a new kind of war, it might also require a review of standards of treatment of prisoners of war.
US laws do not apply
Prison expert Kevin Wright says that it is difficult to compare the situation of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay to anyone in the US criminal justice system.
In the US justice system, someone arrested must either be officially charged with a crime or be released.
During this time, suspects are held in jails, usually administered by local authorities. Courts have laid out minimal conditions for jails, said Mr Wright, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
Conditions must be sanitary and generally safe, given the jail population. Jailers cannot be brutal, but they can use force if an inmate is unco-operative or attacks a guard or another prisoner.
Based on press reports from Guantanamo Bay, Mr Wright said that prisoners held at Camp X-Ray in Cuba are not being held in accordance with minimal standards of care and custody that would be afforded prisoners in US jails or prisons.
"There is basically not a facility there. Basically, they are being in what looks to me as a kennel. That would be unacceptable," he said.
Mr Wright believes that part of the decision not to determine their status and not to bring them on US soil is "so that their incarceration does not have to meet US standards and US laws do not apply."
Mr Wright found televised footage of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay "pretty shocking."
"They had inmates facing the fence on their knees, shackled and handcuffed with ski masks over their faces," he said. "This is a growing issue."
He believes that the detainees deserve better treatment and the US should take the moral high ground by treating the prisoners humanely.
"I would be more proud if we set the standard for the treatment of prisoners of war, rather than going through practices that are questionable," Mr Wright said.
And such footage in and of itself might be in violation of not only the Geneva Convention but also US military regulations.
"It was a misstep on their part," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
And he said that it has misrepresented the conditions that the detainees face. "Obviously, they were in the middle of a transit situation, as opposed to after they were put in more or less confinement," he said.
Mr Wright said that prisoners in transit in the US always are in leg and hand restraints. They would not however be fitted with goggles and ear muffs.
Military officials said the goggles and earmuffs were used due to the conditions on board the military transport.
New war, new rules
Mr Fidell said, "I'm not going to call balls and strikes on the conditions of detention," but he said several factors needed to be taken into consideration when reviewing the treatment of the detainees.
"This all had to be done right away quick. It was a lightning fast campaign," he said.
Never in the history of war has a nation had to airlift prisoners, he said, adding, "I'm not suggesting that we give the US a free ride, but it is hard to put out of mind."
And echoing concerns by the US government, Mr Fidell said: "These are highly dangerous people".
As seen at Mazar-e-Sharif, prisoners are continuing to fight. "They hadn't given up. They were mad as hell," he said.
"We have a new paradigm. Until recently, the nation state had a monopoly on violence. That is no longer the case. We have large parts of world armed to teeth that are not under law, and it will test our legal institutions," he said.
"I think that part of the fall-out of this campaign and the beginning of next phase of human history which one could argue, began with the events on 11 September, might be a re-examination of the rules in Geneva convention," he said.
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