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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 13:03 GMT
Afghan prisoners: How should they be treated?
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, however, that neither group would qualify as prisoners-of-war because they had not carried arms openly or been part of a recognisable military hierarchy.
Despite the administration's decision on designation, he said, there will be no difference in how the two groups of prisoners are treated.
Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners-of-war are entitled to remain silent under interrogation, giving only their names, ranks and serial numbers.
Do you agree or disagree with the designation given to the prisoners? What do you think of the treatment they are receiving? Will they get a fair trial?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
While the crimes that these detainees have committed are ghastly in scope, the United States must still set an example by treating these prisoners humanely, Geneva Convention or not. Anything less than that would be pure hypocrisy.
The terrorists who are our prisoners in Cuba are treated very well - much better than they should be. These people are the dregs of the earth! Do you know how our people were treated during the Vietnam war? Why wasn't there the uproar then?
The time has come and the US is left with few options to deal with these despicable individuals. If we have to protect ourselves we will protect ourselves so that, to quote Abraham Lincoln, government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth. The time of moral relativism has past. If an individual, or if a group, decides to attack and murder unarmed civilians to advance their political or religious goals they should be eliminated. If they surrender after doing a dastardly act, they should be imprisoned as their crime demands. And this will be done by our standards.
The Geneva Convention must be applicable to every individual of every nation by those who proclaim to uphold it and uphold human rights. Any other form of behaviour is an act of terrorism - which Bush & Co claim to be opposed to.
It's about time the U.S. stopped arming other nations and then finding an excuse for blowing them to pieces. So the Trade Centre crumbled to the ground? Maybe now you'll take a close look at your corrupt foreign policy and realise why you are so despised by poorer nations than yourselves.
I would tend to agree that the Taleban were in fact members of a somewhat legitimate military, fighting under a clearly recognizable structure of command, under a recognizable national government, against an incursion of foreign military troops. In that sense it is possible to offer the Taleban POW status, which cannot be accorded to the Al Qaeda. However, that according of status could mean that the Taleban will have to be tried for war crimes rather than dealt with in other ways.
Peter D, UK
I must admit I'm amazed by some of the comments from US citizens on this page. I understand that this was a terrible thing to happen in your country, and my heart goes out to everyone who suffered. However, you are not the only country to have suffered from terrorist attacks. I lost a very dear friend of mine in an IRA attack only a couple of years ago, in the UK. Sadly, I'm just one of many thousands of British people who have had loved ones killed and maimed in terrorist attacks over the past couple of decades. But what we DIDN'T do is ride roughshod over the Irish people (the majority of whom are peaceable people, much like those in Afghanistan). We applied justice to these terrorists, offering them legal rights and support, and gave them a fair trial. Some were found not guilty and released. Others were convicted.
Although my heart says I want every murdering IRA terrorist to die slowly and horribly, my conscience says that justice must take precedence. The Al-Qaeda soldiers have confused justice with murder - now's the time for
US citizens to show their moral superiority over the Taliban.
Forgive me for thinking that giving these prisoners rights under the Geneva Convention is nothing more than a PR move. I don't believe that the US was seriously contemplating torturing these prisoners for information. Even the Bush administration has limits. Their daily conditions aren't going to change. They aren't going to get proper legal representation and, they are going to be recognised as POWs. What is changing? Nothing.
The only reason, from America's point of view, why they should treat these prisoners more fairly is so that they can be seen to be the civilised nation they profess to be. For this reason, I find it staggering that some people still cannot understand the importance that these prisoners are not treated better. This is world politics not school yard scrapping.
The Taliban and al-Queda are being feed, sheltered, allowed religious expression, better hygiene practices than before capture, I fail to see how that is inhumane. They are combatants, who were fighting to kill Americans. Their cause succeeded in exterminating 3000 innocent lives, not to mention those still to come in this battle. We shackle the murderers in our own prison system, not to mention other ways of maintaining control. Logic would insist that extreme precautionary measures are being implemented, for these combatants have made it clear that they will kill ANYONE who impedes their goal.
Alex, New York City, USA
I don't think that if al-Qaeda troops had captured any US soldiers, they would be too worried about the Geneva Convention. These people should be treated as the international criminals and murderers that they are.
These people are being treated humanely by any credible standard. The images that have been so politicised by the Europeans represent the proper security precautions that any well-trained military police unit takes in any respectable army.
The simple fact is that justice must be done, and must be seen to be done to the most stringent legal standards. Otherwise America loses its tenuous hold on the role of the world's policeman, and instead must accept the baser title of vigilante.
Rik van Riel, Brazil
I have a simple question. Does anyone remember the horrifying images of those poor souls that opted to jump to their death from the WTC instead of burn to death? Well, with that image fresh in your mind ask yourselves if these detainees are being treated humanly?
America, rightly or wrongly, will set the standard by which other countries will observe. By lowering the standards America places its own special forces in grave danger. The moral high ground belongs to America and the democratic west. We should be careful not to surrender it too easily.
I'm sure I vaguely remember Tony Blair and George Bush calling the aftermath of 11 September a war, doesn't that mean we have to abide by the Geneva convention? Or is this another case of Britain and the US making up the rules as they go along. Surely the arrogant idea that we are above international law is only going to feed the dissatisfaction, which terrorism feeds on.
Michelle, West Virginia, USA
Here's a thought, anyone that believes that these prisoners are not being treated humanely should demand to sit in the cell with them to show these poor detainees that they care about them. Any takers?
The bleeding-heart liberals hysterically protesting the US treatment of terrorist prisoners have obviously emerged from three months of therapy forgetting what this is about: these people are trying to kill us. You, me, Americans, Britons, Afghans, in fact, everyone who dares disagree with them. Once you realise that their treatment at the hands of the US forces seems benign indeed.
I applaud the current situation, however this shouldn't be mistaken for a complete approval of the captives' treatment. It is, I think, of little consequence that the terrorists weren't "in uniform". Prisoner of war status should be given to all the captives. Anyone would think the Geneva Convention unconditionally stated to set the captives free from the fuss the Americans are making.
The captives are POWs, plain and simple, regardless of what Bush says.
How soon we forget that these are the same group of people that just killed 3,000 innocent Americans. They mistreated their own women and children in their country. These men are getting way better than they deserve. Half of the world's population don't have it as good as they have it. Ask the next homeless person you see when the last time he had three square meals a day was.
Erika Guillot, USA
They have a roof over their head, three meals a day as well as health-care. More than millions of Americans at this very minute. More than the people of underdeveloped countries who are good, law-abiding people.
Prisoners have long suffered in American prisons, international or otherwise. It should be apparent to all that habitually, Americans are willing to throw away what they see as unfit. This includes people. It is because of this unremitting logic that these prisoners need international attention and protection.
I trust our that our American friends realise that the vast majority of the British people fully support the US in its quest and approach to ridding the world of terrorists. The howls of disapproval from the Left in Europe should be ignored as they are wrong once again.
Maurice Price, UK
The prisoners are still vowing to kill Americans! They are being treated like very dangerous criminals because they ARE dangerous criminals. I had lower living standards than the prisoners when I was in the Peace Corps. You people are ridiculous - behaving as if the US is some horrible human rights abusing country. Some more travel and reading about the world might put things in perspective for you. There are people who say we should not even detain these people because it will make Muslim extremists angry. That is an idiotic reason to not defend ourselves. Your criticism of America's treatment of the detainees will have no effect. We have been saturated with petty criticism from Europe for decades. Why should we care what you think? You clearly don't understand this situation.
Whilst I am not anti-American and whilst I fully support any action against terrorism, I find it impossible to align this with the present situation in Cuba. America's cavalier disregard for either international law or public opinion is incredible given their posturing as "the worlds policemen" and "Leaders of the western world". I find the supporters pathetic scrabbling through world history from WW2 to Northern Ireland in the 70's to find excuses for the way they are treating these prisoners disgusting - this is the year 2002 not 1940 or 1970! And, by the way, the British admitted their wrongs against the Irish prisoners, and ceased such abuses, a long time ago. And please, don't try to use your terrible losses to terrorism as an excuse - I grew up with the threat of terrorist bombs on my doorstep put there by organisations part funded by so called loyal Irish Americans
Human rights are universal. America is a signatory to both the UN & Geneva Conventions - a fact it seems to have conveniently forgotten. Sensory deprivation, no matter how short term, is extremely damaging. Keeping prisoners in chicken wire cages, forcefully shaving their heads and beards in defiance of their religious beliefs, and parading them for the press is abuse. The refusal to either charge these men or give them access to legal aid further adds to this. The only reasoning I can think of for the present situation is that there is scant hard evidence against many of the detainees, and that under international judicial proceedings this would become apparent.
Human rights abuses occur no matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. To America I say this: "J'Accuse!!!"
Most of the Western people support their governments 100% in their torture of these Muslim prisoners and the humiliation of their religion by shaving their beards. One only has to read the newspaper letters, discussion boards and other comments posted by non-Muslim Westerners to realise that the vast majority of them support this torture and that the ones who are against it, like human rights campaigners etc. are only a minority. The hypocrites in the World condemned the Taliban for their human rights' abuses and their treatment of prisoners. However, we may ask: "Is there one single incident of the Taliban treating their prisoners, whether Muslim, non- Muslim, Northern Alliance, Western, in this manner, depriving them of the ability to speak, hear, smell, move, etc. throughout the seven years that they were in power?" The British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, herself said that she was treated very well by the Taliban whilst held captive by them. She herself said that she was allowed five meals a day, a room (not cell) to herself, fresh clothes and she was even given cigarettes. This was whilst she was put on trial, after which she was released and allowed to return to Pakistan. Where is this treatment for the prisoners in Cuba then? What happened to the famous slogan "innocent until proven guilty"?
There is no excuse for terrorism anywhere; no exceptions. I hope they are all arrested and put away for life.
Americans come down hard on our own "home-grown" terrorists; much harder than in the UK (including the death penalty).
I am truly baffled by the perception that Americans or "Irish Americans" sympathize with Irish terrorists. We may not understand them (no more than we "understood" Timothy McVeigh) but we don't excuse mass-murderers nor do we apologize for having imposed the death penalty for the carnage McVeigh caused in Oklahoma City.
The "American Taleban Boy" may well wish he had a military trial and a cell in Cuba rather than face an American jury or his cellmates in an American Maximum Security Prison.
This is not exactly a lightweight, "apologetic" response to terrorists. Perhaps someone can explain what perpetuates the myth that Americans sympathize with IRA terrorists.
In response to the first set of comments, I am an American citizen and I strongly believe that the United States has an obligation to abide by international law. I am frustrated that our government feels that we can flaunt international law (i.e., the Geneva Convention) whenever we feel like it. International law helps the world become more civilized - it allows for uniform prosecution of human rights violations and creates a more stable world. How can we claim to stand for justice, democracy, and human rights if we fail practice what we preach?
I will use the words of the honourable Tony Blair; these men are "murderous and suicidal." Please remember that these men have no reservations with the taking of life or sacrificing their own lives to fulfil their murderous ends. They've demonstrated that time and time again all over the world. Also, these are not Afghanis that were defending their country from invaders; they're Arabs, Pakistanis and Chechens. These are men that went to Afghanistan as students of terror and destruction. And the graduates of these schools do not have our best interests at heart. So the million dollar question is "How do you contain a man that is willing to sacrifice his life to take yours?" Answer that question and you will have solved this situation.
Nigel Greensitt, Manchester, UK
It's great to see so many people (apart from the lady from USA) firmly coming out and condemning terrorism. I lived in NI for the first 26 years of my life and am utterly disgusted that people can be so entrenched in their prejudices that they think it's ok to kill anyone - whether they're an innocent civilian or an innocent security forces member. And it disgusts me to see people who admit to having been members in terror organisations being allowed to enter mainstream politics and get paid a whopping salary for the privilege. Life should mean just that. If someone is convicted of a terrorist crime they should be imprisoned for the rest of their natural life - just as the families left behind are left to suffer for the rest of their lives.
The fact that sensory deprivation is being used on those prisoners being taken from Afghanistan to Cuba is already a cause for grave concern. Inhumane treatment is inhumane treatment. I hope the Red Cross will be free to publish a report on the exact conditions under which these prisoners are being held. If no independent information is forthcoming then there is yet more cause for concern. Is it so dangerous to allow the civilised world to know exactly what is going on in Cuba? The US appears to be playing with the codes of international law and this can only weaken their own position in the long term. I understand perfectly that these prisoners should be dealt with with the utmost caution but American apprehension seems to be exceeding all limits. Free access by a team of UN inspectors would be another way to relieve the web of intrigue that is escalating by the minute.
Keith Schnell, USA
I am all for the US withdrawing from the world and don't care a bit whether we are welcome in other countries. It would be interesting to watch the ultra left governments of Europe build their own "terrorist tolerant" societies. I certainly would welcome Americans to return home, from everywhere, particularly Europe and the Middle East, to concentrate on our own problems. You Europeans seem too have all the answers anyway, as the ultra-left always does. In short, we will mete out justice on our terms and you can do so on yours, just get off our backs.
To all outraged Americans out there - please do not judge us all for soft liberals. I have no doubt if the events of September 11 had happened in London those same liberals would change their tune. These are mostly the same people who would bring back hanging if someone close to them were hurt but would oppose such measures if it happened to someone else. As for the Taleban prisoners, they have their health and their lives, if not their freedom.
What they planned to do to any who opposed them should be set against these facts - they are far better treated by the US than the treatment they would mete out to others. Give them the choice of being squeezed under a rock while being relentlessly carpet bombed or being where they are now and I doubt if many would refuse the latter. Let us consider the case for offering them some extra comforts. How about a television?
They could watch all those decadent western programmes. Maybe we should throw in a music centre and some raunchy Madonna CDs. For us these would be comforts, for them a kind of torture, so the US has chosen not to give these to them. As for privacy and extra items for their cells, remember these are desperate people who must be watched and controlled to prevent them from causing harm to themselves or others. It's for their own good they are not given them.
I cannot believe what I am reading. The nerve of all you, treating Americans as if we were your enemies. I wonder what type of treatment the British government would have provided to these barbarians if the terrorists crashed the planes in London. The Taleban did have a chance to turn over Osama bin Laden and they refused. They harboured and financed these terrorists who were roaming around the world plotting to kill innocent civilians regardless of their nationality. They massacred their own people, held public executions, oppressed, beat and killed woman and left them to beg for food for their children - regardless of the fact that their children were dying of starvation.
Those are the true barbarians, the barbarians that allowed
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to train in their country. Now, if my history is correct, America helped save Europe in World War Two, and they have always been there for the UK, France, Germany and any other European country that needs our assistance in a time of crisis. But now it seems like the whole world is happy that our people have to worry about being massacred in any part of the world just because of who we are.
Daniel Twombly, San Jose, California, USA
These howls of outrage over the treatment of the al-Qaeda detainees being held in Cuba is political correctness run amok. The detainees are not prisoners of war - they are terrorists. They were not fighting for or defending their country. They are not going to return to their country when the fighting is over and take up peaceful lives. They are dedicated to committing acts of mass destruction designed to achieve the maximum amount of chaos in the world. While their living conditions in Cuba may be spartan, you may be sure that they will receive better treatment from the US than from other Middle Eastern countries. The US will not behead them or stone them to death and they will certainly not have their limbs chopped off. I do not think that anti-American rhetoric serves any useful purpose. Rather, the discussion should focus on how the international community can find common ground to deal with these terrorists in the future.
Jean Martin, Lantzville BC Canada
They are being treated differently from John Walker Lindt . I fail to see how being an American Citizen is a relevant difference - to my mind it makes him worse if anything, so the treatment of these prisoners cannot be "fair"
The US can always demonstrate to the world that the prisoners are being humanely treated by installing Web Cams so that all can see that justice is being done.
If they won't then we can assume that the prisoners are not being treated properly.
I can't believe all of the cynical comments in the press regarding the treatment of these prisoners. I have every confidence that the US will treat these prisoners humanely and by western standards. As far as I can tell from the information provided thus far, these prisoners are being treated in a similar manner to high risk prisoners in a maximum security prison on the US mainland. Except on the mainland they don't have air conditioned cells with panoramic views.
This attack on our American allies is nothing more than an attempt by whining left wing liberals to undermine the progress that has been made so far in the war against terrorism.
And for those people who think our soldiers would be treated any better if held prisoner in an Islamic country read Andy McNab's book, Bravo Two Zero.
Firstly, unless it can be proven that the prisoners were directly involved in attacks or crimes on US soil, the US has no business applying its "justice" to them. If there are charges of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the prisoners should be tried by an International Court. If the crimes were perpetrated in Afghanistan against Afghanistanis they should be tried by Afghan courts. Also since apparently the US is not officially at war, US soldiers are evidently also "illegal combatants". (What would happen if US soldiers should stray into Iran?) This is also preposterous since the Taleban was the government of Afghanistan, even receiving aid from the US. It is a shame that other Western leaders do not have the courage to stand up to the US government and say that the treatment of these prisoners is not acceptable in this century. Yes, if they are found guilty of crimes they should be punished. But prominent Nazis were given fair and public trials and Israel gave Eichmann a fair trial. What the US policy has already done is to raise international sympathy for these men, some of whom are undoubtedly bloodthirsty killers. Public and proper trials would show the world without a doubt what they are.
So many of you just jump to conclusions regarding the treatment of these 'detainees'. First of all, the International Red Cross is there to oversee the treatment of the 'detainees'. Second, the US is detaining these individuals while intelligence is gathered for the trials (and yes, they do deserve a fair trial no matter how guilty they may appear). Instead of just screaming 'bloody murder' like every other liberal, have a little patience and justice will prevail.
Doug, NYC, USA
Once again the America-haters are coming out of the woodwork to sound off against the "evil" USA. For those who are serious, thoughtful and who try to retain some degree of objectivity, I'd offer the following observations: (1) no military tribunals have been created to try anyone; they have simply been approved as a possible option; (2) these al-Qaeda prisoners are considered the most dangerous of the whole bunch; they have repeatedly threatened violence; and while in the custody of the Afghans, many were in fact involved in prison uprisings; and (3) perhaps most importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that they are being treated inhumanely or that they will not receive fair trials.
These people are being well fed. They have mattresses to sleep on. They have 3 meals a day. There's even a sign out for them pointing to the direction of Mecca so they can properly exercise their religion! They are not being physically abused. They are being treated with very tight security-- as one would hope and expect.
These people are being treated as well as they can safely be treated. Our armed forces must consider their own safety alongside of the comfort of the prisoners, and facilities are being erected as quickly as possible to accommodate both. As to whether they are POWs, this is an undeclared war only because there is no state to declare war against, and therefore no homeland to rightfully return its POWs to when the war ends. It has not ended yet, so they are not due to be returned yet in any case, since they would immediately become combatants again. The Geneva Convention does not apply. Not because it is not convenient to the USA, but simply because it is not relevant to this type of conflict; the proper precedent does not yet exist for a war against people without a state or geographic location. If this were addressed I have little doubt that these people could be called POWs, but if you first name them POWs then the question is, where is the war? And they must then be released. That is idiotic, since they pose a clear and present danger to the United States. Adjust the Convention to meet the times, then you can chastise us if we don't comply.
Alan Gibson, Dublin, Ireland
The fact that they're still alive speaks for itself.
Ryan, Houston, USA
The US is calling the prisoners "detainees" for a good reason. If they were Prisoners of war then they would no longer be able to be tried for war crimes. The prisoners are not only being treated in accordance with the Geneva convention, but they are being treated much better than they deserve. When asked, the British detainees said they had no complaints about their treatment. The US will treat these men fairly and the British detainees will most likely find themselves in Britain before its all over, so please give it a rest.
Now let me get this straight. These members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda hate everyone and everything to do with Western culture. This includes not just the US but also the UK and the rest of western Europe. They have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people all over the world, and have carried out their macabre actions with great excitement and joy. And there are those who are worried about their "human rights"? Well, I suppose so if you consider these people human. I think they're monsters. Hideous monsters, and they can all rot in hell.
Kevin Rardin, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
It must be one of the indicators of a civilized society how it treats those who have sinned against it. Their crimes do not dictate their treatment in custody 'though they may affect their treatment if convicted. More than anything else, we need calm at this time. The U.S. should hand them over to a neutral party for trial.
It would be extremely inappropriate to call the al-Qaeda members prisoners of war. We don't call real IRA members, or Basque separatists, prisoners of war. There is good reason for this. Terrorists do not deserve the status of prisoner of war. They only objective is to murder innocent people. Sociopaths and mad murders should have less rights.
How many rows have there been in Europe concerning the treatment of political prisoners in Castro's Cuba? How many headlines has The Mirror printed about Cuba's rat-infested jails?
It disgusts me to see what the world has come to post Sept 11th while the people just sit and find it acceptable. What happened on Sept 11, while tragic, does not give the USA the right to call its own shots and do whatever it pleases the world over while flaunting international law. What horrifies me, is that the word seems to agree that this is justifiable revenge... my god, what has become of us???? And if this is the new standard, then let the world beware.
As one British official recently commented: The definition of a Prisoner of War is a complicated thing. What matters is that they are treated humanely. I don't think anyone can argue that the conditions are not humane. They are not luxurious, but does anyone think that we should reward terrorism with luxury?
Chris, Chicago, Ill
The self-righteous clamour over the detention of these people is difficult to stomach in view of the comparative silence over the appalling treatment of prisoners in other countries. This double standard is the classic bigotry of low expectations, where inhabitants of third-world countries are held to lower standards. The message coming across is that they are too ignorant and primitive to know any better so let's only criticize the United States.
How "inhumane" is it to be flown to an island paradise, fed three "culturally correct" meals per day, given free medical care, daily exercise and a copy of the Koran? Wake up, people! Did those who died on Sept. 11th receive humane treatment? As far as I am concerned, the terrorists gave up their rights on that fateful September morning.
For us, Afghans, the Taleban is just a history now, a dark and horrible page of our history.
However, if I were in charge I would put them in a zoo, an international zoo. I don¿t know if I have used the name zoo properly, as it is used for animals. I don¿t want call then "animal", I think it is insult for animals. We have to find a new name for it.
I still remember the last time I was in Kabul, I had just arrived and was taking off from the bus, I saw two hands had been cut and were hanged in a tree. When I asked the people, I found they were the hands of a 14 years boy.
Let's not think about what he had done, he was 14, he was a child. And there are thousands cases like this.
It is hard to think of these people without hate, part of me wants them to be executed like those poor people on Sept 11th and part of me feels they should at least have a trial. And remember it is not only the victims in America these people have inflicted pain against, they have been terrorising these native Afghanistan people for years.
11 Jan 02 | Americas
Cuba base awaits Afghanistan captives
09 Jan 02 | South Asia
US seeks access to Taleban ministers
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Harsh conditions await prisoners
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
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