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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 14:14 GMT
PoW footage 'breaks convention'
An injured American PoW on al-Jazeera TV
Iraq's defence minister said the PoWs would not be harmed

Footage of captured US soldiers broadcast on Iraqi television violates the Geneva Convention, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which says neither side in the conflict should show pictures of prisoners of war.

In the videotape, broadcast on Sunday, four men and a woman - some confused and two apparently wounded - were shown being interviewed for several minutes.

The ICRC says the same rules apply to the pictures of Iraqis surrendering to American and British forces shown all over the world over the last few days.

People have perceived the pictures as being an offence, a humiliation
ICRC spokesperson Antonella Notari

They were not seen being questioned and not generally in close-up, but some were on the ground being searched.

UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was fierce in his criticism of how the Iraqis had treated US prisoners shown live on Iraqi television.

"There is an enormous difference... between the factual photographs very often of the backs of prisoners surrendering [as US forces show] as against the appalling, barbaric behaviour of Iraqi forces dealing with... American prisoners," Mr Hoon said.

The Iraqi information minister has said Iraq may well show pictures of US pilots captured on Monday.

Humiliation 'key'

The Geneva Convention on prisoners of war (PoWs) in general prohibits humiliating and degrading treatment.

Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention says "prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity".

Basic food rations should keep prisoners in good health
Suitable clothing should be supplied, preferably prisoners' original uniforms
Prisoners should be released and repatriated without delay after ceasefire
Prisoners to be protected from violence or intimidation and against "insults and public curiosity"

What is perceived as humiliating by the families and communities is key to interpreting this article of the convention, says the ICRC, which acts as the guardian of the convention.

"If we look at the reactions today in the US and the Arab world, they have been very similar. People have perceived [the pictures] as being an offence, a humiliation," ICRC spokesperson Antonella Notari told BBC News Online.

PoWs should not be used as part of the propaganda war between the two sides, and all warring factions should respect that, says Ms Notari, a former PoW in Somalia herself.

Those rules should have also been applied to images of PoWs at the US base of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"At that time, we approached the US authorities to ask them not to use these pictures," she says.

For more than a year now, the American Government has been criticised for the way it has treated hundreds of prisoners from the fighting in Afghanistan, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason.

It has denied that those held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the rights of PoWs - instead Donald Rumsfeld came up with the description "unlawful combatants".

Pictures of some of them hooded and kneeling have been shown on television.

The BBC's Richard Forrest
"It's all stirred up images from the last Gulf War"


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