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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 18:57 GMT
Court rejects Guantanamo PoW bid
A prisoner is carried on a stretcher by two US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay
There are six French suspects held in Guantanamo
A French court has rejected a plea by lawyers acting for two French nationals held at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for them to be treated as prisoners of war.

This would have allowed them to benefit from the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee a wide range of rights to captives.


The French judge not only had the right, but the duty to make sure the Geneva Conventions are respected

Defence lawyer William Bourdon

The judge said that he was not qualified to rule on the status of the two men - Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchellali - who are among some 600 detainees detained at the camp in the wake of the attacks in America last year.

The French Government has taken the view that the detainees should benefit from all the guarantees recognised by international law, and if they had committed acts punishable under French law, they should be tried in France.

"Whatever their status and whatever their nationality, we want the prisoners held in Guantanamo to benefit from all the guarantees recognised by international law," said a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Paris.

"We have told the US authorities that if these prisoners have committed any acts punishable under French law, they should be tried in France," she added.

Legal limbo

Lawyer William Bourdon said the two suspects were caught in a judicial black hole, benefiting neither from the Geneva Conventions nor from the consular protection that applies to suspects in criminal cases.

"The French judge not only had the right, but the duty to make sure the Geneva Conventions are respected. He refuses to do this, which we regret," he said after the ruling.

There are six French suspects among the suspected al-Qaeda or Taleban members being held in Guantanamo.

US President George W Bush in February designated the detainees as "illegal combatants".

As a result, the detainees are not receiving legal representation, family visits or information as to how long they may be held.

Several countries have said they would like their nationals being held at Guantanamo to be sent for trial in their own courts.


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See also:

11 Sep 02 | Europe
03 Sep 02 | Europe
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