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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 14:52 GMT
Human rights: A casualty of the war on terror?
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Freedoms are being lost in the push to defeat terrorism, according to Human Rights Watch.

The group says that countries such as Russia, Uzbekistan, and Egypt are using the war on terror to "justify abusive military campaigns or crackdowns on domestic political opponents."

Human Rights Watch has also raised concerns over the treatment of al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners at a US naval base in Guantanamo Bay.

However, the organisation says the war on terror has had the positive effect of focusing attention on human rights deficiencies in the Middle East.


Over 32,000 people voted in our online vote, "Are Afghan prisoners being treated fairly?" Sixty one percent of you said Yes, while 36 percent went to the No's.

We discussed human rights in the wake of September 11th in our phone-in programme, Talking Point on Air. Presenter Robin Lustig was joined in the studio by Kim Gordon-Bates from Human Rights Watch.

  • Your comments since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


    Your reaction

    Your comments since the programme

    The treatment of these prisoners is just a softening up in preparation for interrogation to try and gain information on what their organisations are/were up to. Even POW's of WW2 were subjugated to this and who can deny the USA the right to this? All the legal justification/attack on treatment is just muddying the waters. Lets just say that they are being interrogated in an intelligent way, without physical harm and get on with it!

    However as an Ulsterman I do feel its ironic that if the IRA prisoners had been treated as badly the USA wouldn't have stood meekly by!
    Robert, London, UK

    I saw on photographs that prisoners were forced to wear mask, black glasses, had cotton plugs in their ears and were bound with heavy chains around their arms and legs. What do you think this is all about? Let us compare to the British journalist, Yvonne Ridley. She herself said that she was treated very well by the Taleban whilst held captive by them. She 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? Who are the real champions of human rights and justice - the Taliban or the Americans? What happened to the famous slogan "innocent until proven guilty"? Now I see most of 'civilized' people are not really human that use their brain in treating prisoners, instead of using emotion and blind mind to revenge what they are not proven yet to do so.
    Apin, Jakarta-Indonesia


    By being publicly seen to treat our enemy well, we widen the moral gulf that exists between our actions and theirs

    John, England
    It becomes clearer with each passing day that these detainees are not, in reality, suffering premeditated abuses of their human rights. I'm sure that in due course, they will receive fair trials. At that point, we will learn of the level of guilt (or innocence) of each defendant. That said, I'm concerned by the jingoistic comments of many contributors to this forum. By creating the impression that we don't care about the rights of our enemies, or by pre-emptively judging them all to be equally guilty, we simply recruit more terrorists.

    I'm no hand-wringing liberal, but I do think that our cause would have been better served if we had treated these people in such a way that the misconceptions about their rights could not have arisen. By being publicly seen to treat our enemy well, we widen the moral gulf that exists between our actions and theirs.
    John, England

    I'm afraid a good many comments here reflect on why the prisoners should be entitled to any more "comforts" than they already have, given their organizations' propensity to contravene the basic, internationally agreed upon human rights of its own people. However, my contention is that if the US and its allies do not abide by the very laws they are trying to uphold by making war on terrorism (regardless of how dangerous or not their prisoners may be), then they cannot claim to be justified in their war in the first place.
    Abhinandan, Oxford, UK

    Someone said one day "It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live by them"... specially when One has got more muscles than Ethos,more Fear than real Strength. As for the ones who suggest "an eye for an eye" - they are no better than the ones they condemn!
    John F, Australia

    If the definition of human rights injustices consist of: 1) cutting off beards 2) herding prisoners like cattle into open air pens 3) being shackled and blindfolded 4) being outside in the cold evenings and hot days (while air-conditioned accommodations are being built, I might add) I'm sorry, I don't see the human rights violations. The way some of you people are writing you'd think the U.S. military was putting out cigarettes on prisoners while shoving bamboo shoots under their fingernails.
    John, Las Vegas, USA


    It is our responsibility as civilised humans to obey our own laws.

    Ross C, Canada
    Prisoners of war must be treated according to the rules set out in the Geneva Conventions. It does not matter how evil the prisoners are or how angry we are. It is our responsibility as civilised humans to obey our own laws. I am gravely disappointed in my government for it's decision to tolerate (and now even participate in) the USA's war crimes and crimes against humanity.
    Ross C, Ottawa, Canada

    These Al Qaeda terrorists are not part of any national army. They fought under no flag, and are not even an army in the conventional sense. They are gangsters, and freebooters who picked from a menu of countries for their convenience. They were caught in Afghanistan, but in another time they could have been in Sudan, Somalia, the Phillipines, or any where else that pleased them. They do not deserve Geneva sponsored P.O.W. status. Not to worry though, the US will take care of them well enough.
    Robert H., San Diego, USA

    Fighting terrorism and maintaining human rights are not mutually exclusive. I hope that states that try to use the guise of fighting terrorism to suppress opposition are brought under closer scrutiny. In reference to the prisoners; they did not fight for a recognized government, they were not captured in uniform, and they are not under the pay of a recognized government. Therefore they are unlawful combatants. Perhaps the sensory deprivation using mufflers, blindfolds, etc.. was a bit excessive, but considering the security risk I back the military in their action. With regards to the small prison cells, it's a temporary solution and hopefully they will build more substantial facilities
    Andrew Cline, Stamford CT


    How convenient that so many Americans on this board already KNOW that these people are guilty.

    Andrew Smith, US
    How convenient that so many Americans on this board already KNOW that these people are guilty of the September 11 bombing. How do they know? Well because George W. Bush says so of course. Those of us who prefer facts to jingoistic rhetoric still await some kind of proof that a single Afghanistani had anything to do with it.
    Andrew Smith, US -exUK

    To me it's seems only prudent to house the prisoners in wire cages, one per cage. It would make a prison revolt more difficult and prevent injuries to both prisoners and soldiers.
    Matt, San Francisco, CA

    Sometimes we must do what is right, even though it may seem wrong at the time. These men do not deserve to be treated well, I am appalled at the bleeding heart liberalism that has sprung up. Welcome to the real world. In a world where a mad man can command the loyalty of millions, where thousands can perish in a single act of terror and still our resolve is in question, in this world you will not quench hate with love, you will defeat it only with equal if not more force. If you donżt like it, then turn off the TV, Radio and return to your sheltered life, but either way do not stand between those of us who have lost loved ones and those that are responsible. A clear message must be sent to the advocates of terror, you will not defeat us, we will not be afraid. The time has come for you to fear us.
    K Brendan, New York, USA

    The people currently held in America, before capture, were fighting in response to a call for a Religious war against the West. I siding with the Taleban and Bin Laden, they condone the acts of terrorism that occurred on September the 11th, and those that have happened in their country for the last 12 years. They should consider themselves lucky that they are alive, and are being looked after. Why is it that there are so many do-gooders on the Planet always ready to poke their noses in at the least sign of potential trouble? Perhaps if they had witnessed September the 11th first hand, or perhaps remembered the pictures the World saw, they may remain a good deal quieter.
    Craig, England

    What is an "unlawful combatant"?, precisely when and where historically, has this term been used before? As far I know international law, and law in general often operates by reference to how things were dealt with in the past. The problem with the US treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners is precisely the precedent that is being set for the future treatment of terrorist suspects in the "War on (Islamic) Terrorism".
    Waseem Farooq, UK

    It does not matter what crime a person has committed they should be treated reasonably. The suffering they inflicted does not justify a descent into brutality on the behalf of their captors. Brutality towards them will encourage revenge from their supporters and contempt for the so called justice which they see being given. Why do the Americans seem to like shackling people in custody? Seems a bit over the top to me.
    Paul Bridle, UK

    An international outroar over the human rights of the captured al-Qaeda prisoners? These depraved fanatics have been trained to murder the masses through aircraft hijackings, biological warfare, and other horrific acts and the International Red Cross worries that their cultural rights have been violated because they were made to shave their filthy beards? It would be cheaper to put them in front of a firing squad. These detainees are animals and are lucky to be receiving what they have so far.
    John , USA


    The Taleban treated the prisoners they captured better than the Americans are treating theirs

    Imran, UK
    Even the Taleban treated the prisoners they captured, such as news reporters, better than the Americans are treating theirs. And yes they are prisoners of war as opposed to combatants - seems logical enough to me that anyone captured in the "war on terrorism" be branded a prisoner of the war on terrorism and not a combatant? Oh sorry that's right, this is American "Infinite Justice" being dealt out, not proper justice. My apologies!!
    Imran, UK

    With all the focus on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, I would have thought that referring back to how Louise Woodward, a fairly frail and harmless young girl, was moved about manacled and in leg irons would show that the same treatment for trained killers was well in proportion. This kind of treatment seems to be the norm in the US. It is surprising that nobody seems to have made this type of comment to throw light on the situation.
    Roy Barton, Dorset, UK

    The conditions at the prison at Guantanamo Bay include three culturally appropriate meals per day, mail services, medical care and adequate shelter for a tropical climate. Prisoners are not being brutalized or tormented in any way. I would submit that if a poll of prisoners currently being held in the bulk of prisons in Russia, Africa, Asia and South America were taken, the vast majority of those prisoners would request immediate transfer from their current jail to Guantanamo! In my opinion, this issue is disproportionately resonant with a vocal minority, especially in Europe, whose anti-American sentiments have been muzzled by the worldwide outrage at the events of 11 September and are looking desperately for a new pedestal from which to criticize the US.
    T, Estonia


    These things do not happen in a vacuum

    Ashtoreth Karnayim, USA
    It's the disregard for human rights of people in the developing world that provoke terrorist attacks. These things do not happen in a vacuum. People do not train to fly aircraft and then kill themselves and hundreds of others because they're "jealous of our freedoms" - they do it because they have been so crushed down by the rich and powerful that they see no reason to live. Now that the US is disenfranchising its own population (again) it might do well to keep this in mind.
    Ashtoreth Karnayim, USA

    I am incredibly disturbed at the simple-minded bloodthirstiness of my fellow countrymen. The attitude seems to be "subjugate these animals, whether guilty or not." US television is even starting to spin torture as a feasible option. Secret trials, torture, humiliation - is this what we want the US to represent? As human rights organisations (and unlucky recipient Latin Americans) know, we've done a great job of supporting dictatorships, torturers, and murder in the name of anti-communism, will we do the same in the name of anti-terrorism? Will secret trials and killings deter terrorists like our death penalty deters murderers?
    Lora Torecelli, New York, US

    The US treatment of the suspects at Guantanamo Bay is probably the best recruiting tool for further al-Qaeda terrorists and Osama bin Laden will delay the release of any further videos after such a media coup. The US must keep its eye on the ball and remember that this is a war on terrorism and this requires winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. Actions such as these will only antagonise and alienate Muslims further and people should realise that although the vast majority of Muslims would never indulge in terrorism, it only takes a handful of committed individuals to perpetrate an event like 11 September.
    Dr Adnan Siddiqui, London,UK

    I really don't think these so-called human rights violations are really any type of violation at all. As is the custom in America, these people are certainly being treated fairly. They are receiving three meals a day, a mat to sleep on, a copy of the Koran, warm showers, opportunities to exercise and the ability to write to family members. This beats any cave dwelling I am familiar with. I have noticed from some of the comments made that some people believe the US is indeed mistreating these detainees. To them I can only say this - how would you treat them if your wife, husband, father or mother were killed on 11 September? No doubt your attitudes would be slightly different! In any event I am proud of America and her moral character. She was attacked in a barbaric manner and yet she still finds enough compassion to treat the detainees fairly. I only wish that my friends in the rest of the world would see this more clearly.
    Patrick, US

    I think you are being too precious about this issue of human rights. I have a vivid image of a Taleban warlord shooting a woman in the back of the head because of some ridiculous reason, where was her human right? To tell you the truth I don't really care if they don't like the colour of their overalls.
    Susanne, Australia


    When does all the political correctness wake up and look at the harsh reality of these cultures?

    Christy Phelps, USA
    I must be missing something, not understanding exactly who the poor victims of this terrorism are. Aren't we talking about al-Qaeda - people who beat children for laughing? People who willingly take the lives of the innocent and regard that bloodshed as a key to heaven? People who spend all of their assets on weaponry for centuries while the countries they live in have no roads, schools, industries, health care and the elderly, women and children all go down in famine? Aren't the people in question now receiving three meals a day, medical attention, showers? Is the Caribbean perhaps a more pleasant environment than a cave in Afghanistan? When does all the political correctness wake up and look at the harsh reality of these cultures?
    Christy Phelps, VA Beach, USA

    Christy Phelps: political correctness has woken up - unfortunately it's the people entrenched in imperialism and arrogance that are still asleep. You can't, as the US has done, appoint yourself as the defender of world morals, kill people in the name of it (4,000 Afghan citizens in the current campaign) and then refuse to abide by just international laws that have cost the lives of thousands more to establish. This arrogant, stupid behaviour is why terrorism can thrive and entire countries hate us.
    Leigh, US

    War is now a different thing to what it was when the Geneva convention was signed. Now the only way to deal with these people is to do as my friends, the US is doing.
    Mark, St Catharine, Canada

    I am really shocked by the inhuman and evil way America is treating POWs. However much America tries to justify its treatment of these POWs it can not escape international obligations, and unless proven in a properly constituted court of law, they remain suspects, and there is no such thing as 'illegal combatants'.
    Mohmed A. M., K. Lumpur, Malaysia

    The potential victims of the next al-Qaeda terrorist attack also have human rights. To protect the human rights of the innocent, it is justifiable to ignore the rights of the guilty.
    George, Antwerp Belgium

    The treatment of the al-Qaeda/Taleban prisoners by the US is atrocious. Who is the US to say that people captured during a war are not prisoners of war? There seems to be one rule for the US and its "allies" and another rule for everyone else. The US now seems to think that it can label anyone an al- Qaeda/Taleban terrorist and then do what they want with that person. What about due process of the law? What about human rights?
    Paul Mercer, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

    Your comments during the programme


    A person who does not meet the definition of a 'combatant' under the Geneva Convention falls back into a category of 'protected persons'.

    James, Utrecht, The Netherlands
    The transfer of these detainees to US territory may be a war crime. A person who does not meet the definition of a 'combatant' under the Geneva Conventions falls back into a category of 'protected persons'. Protected persons may not be forcibly transferred to enemy territory. Ordering such a transfer is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions - a war crime. In other words, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair (by aiding and abetting him) may be guilty of war crimes, and could be tried for them anywhere in the world.
    There is a solution - presume that the detainees are POWs until it is proved otherwise before a competent tribunal and they do not fall within the 'protected person' category. That is the only way to avoid the grave danger of these grave breaches.
    James, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    If the tables were turned, and the Taleban took American prisoners, would we expect them to be treated according to the Geneva Convention?
    Richard, Melbourne Australia

    M Hawkins from the USA seems to have a whole slew of actions that have been taken by various liberal entities with a supposedly noble slant in mind. Note the effect on the real world: next to zero. The majority in many first world countries are growing tired of dealing with the minority of extremists in third world countries. It would do the terrorists good to realize this, as with every incident my desire increases to see my tax dollars develop even more fearsome weapons to take them out.
    Victor, USA

    The Bush administration's disregard for international agreements is well documented. First Kyoto, then the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty and now its questionable actions regarding the 'unlawful combatants'.
    Although there is international sympathy for the events of September 11th, there is also an increasing concern at what is being perceived as America's increasing arrogance and a populist thirst for vengeance.
    It is tempting to say that in the long term, these concerns could be damaging to America's international profile. However America is the World's only super power and as such it can pretty much do anything it likes.
    Ali, London, UK


    The real question is: should one condemn people fighting for their rights as terrorists?

    Ayesha Khan, Pakistan
    The real question is: should one condemn people fighting for their rights as terrorists? Who gets to decide whether someone is a freedom fighter or a terrorist. A Chechen, Kashmiri Muslim, Kurd or an Arab Palestinian(Christian or Muslim). Are they fighting for their right to live free and independently or are they just terrorists. Is America (and its lackeys) to decide, pronounce judgement(according to the political game being played) and take appropriate action?
    Ayesha Khan, Islamabad, Pakistan

    If the world had known what horror lay in wait for them at the outset of the Nazi regime in the 1930's they would have rounded up those monsters and shot every one of them. We now know what sort of unspeakable evil this new group of monsters is all about. So what do we do with them?
    Craig Mayberry, NM USA

    I agree that the USA should uphold the prisoner's basic human rights, i.e. that they should not suffer torture, and be given food and water, but that's where my sympathies end.
    Al-Qaeda seems to have breached the human rights, of the occupants of the world trade centre when it crashed, hijacked Jets into the buildings destroying them and all the people in them! I'm sorry but my heart does not bleed for these people. They are committed terrorists and murderers. They brought the wrath of the world upon themselves.
    Tim O, Dover, England


    Human rights should not be given freely to all. They must be earned

    Jerry Cornelius, Portsmouth, UK
    Human rights should not be given freely to all. They must be earned - if you are a terrorist who rejects the laws of other countries, why should the laws of those countries be used to protect you. Human rights have obligations too - ignore those obligations and you are an outlaw, on your own.
    Jerry Cornelius, Portsmouth/UK

    If US troops are captured in any anti-terrorist campaign, will the US administration accept that the captured US soldiers not be treated as POWs and will the US object if they are tried in military courts?
    The way the US is behaving today any government can easily justify its "human right' abuses (or pollution policies!) and can always claim that it is for the good of its citizens - just quote what the US says or does.
    Errol Jacob, Perth, Western Australia

    Your comments before we went ON AIR


    The abuse of the rights of detained people is becoming a common occurrence around the world

    James, Australia
    The US is simply abusing the human rights of these prisoners. But unfortunately this is becoming a common occurrence around the world - the abuse of the rights of detained people. Just look at Australia. We sent our boat people (refugees) to detention camps in the middle of nowhere when they landed here.
    James, Australia

    America will do anything and tolerate any measures to protect its citizens. We Americans are concerned with our safety as much as we are about bringing the terrorists to a real, swift and permanent justice. The ACLU has lost their footing in America since September 11. The liberals are finished - Americans will fight for the right to survive and we will survive and prosper.
    Chris, USA

    Each new war brings new necessities. On September 11 a new war began. Perhaps there should be a new Geneva Convention regarding the handling of terrorists and those who support them.
    Carl Lovett, Beltsville, USA

    Terrorism exists only because certain people feel strongly enough about an issue to turn to violent solutions. By mistreating its prisoners, the US creates another such cause, and risks more outrages from Al-Qaeda terrorists still at large. To give the prisoners in Cuba a hard time may make some Americans feel better, but is it really in their own best interests if it gives rise to another 11th September?
    John Welford, Leicestershire, UK

    I think the fundamental problem here, in terms of terrorism, is we have yet to determine the best way to defend ourselves without "becoming" those we are defending ourselves against. This could be applied to any country, not just the US. The terrorists know how to use our freedoms to achieve their objectives, and thus, puts those freedoms into question when we are looking to keep our countries safe.

    In response to Richard N, UK ---"To the good US citizens out there, September 11 was partly caused by your lack of interest in the world outside your borders - but there is such a world and you should not separate your lives from its people or laws." I appreciate your comments, however it's a bit of a generalization to assume all Americans are oblivious to the rest of the world. One thing I've always been acutely aware of, is how unwelcome we are in the rest of the world. I've always made efforts to understand other cultures, but am usually met with disrespect for my own. The international community wants me to apologize for being an American before attempting to proclaim I understand their grievances. Yes, the US has some issues she needs to address in terms of international relations, but so do many others.
    Amy, USA


    There is a difference between being accused of a crime and being guilty of a crime

    Kirsty, UK
    What so many people seem to fail to appreciate is that there is a difference between being accused of a crime and being guilty of a crime. How can anyone justify punishment for a crime that has not been proven? I find it hard to believe that all 80 people in captivity were directly responsible for what happened on September 11th. What exactly is it that they have been proven to be guilty of? When that has been answered would be the time to discuss punishment, not before.
    Kirsty, UK

    It all depends on who defines human rights, who applies them and how. If the US abuses human rights, it is overlooked, while human rights abuse by any other country is a potential reason for it being bombed to pieces.
    Andreas, Greece

    No one has visited the prisoners nor have they laid out a valid case that the USA is violating human rites but the accusations fly. When it comes to human rights, there is no country in the world that is remotely close to the United States and Europe. Any attempt to morally equate the USA to its enemies is ludicrous and insulting to the American people.
    Bill Douglass, Chicago, USA

    In the face of terrorism human rights should be maintained with common sense. Humans have the right to exist without being crushed, incinerated and murdered. Victims of the World Trade Center atrocity have lost their rights and freedom in this world forever.
    JR Mackie, New Jersey, USA


    What on earth do these hand wringers like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ever do to rid the world of the tyranny?

    Peter C Kohler, USA
    What utter nonsense. What on earth do these hand wringers like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ever do to rid the world of the tyranny they decry? Nothing. Except maybe issue press releases. Who liberated Afghanistan of the unrelenting terror of the Taleban? A bunch of whining do-gooders sitting in London or a US Marine risking his life to vanquish a foe of unspeakable barbarism? Oh, and please stop moaning about the "Afghan" prisoners held in Cuba-- most are not Afghans at all but foreigners who waged terror against Afghans and the world. Now we're supposed to feel sorry for them? Not a chance.
    Peter C Kohler, Washington DC USA

    In reply to Peter Kohler's question about what human rights activists have done to rid the world of tyranny... Well, let's see. Human rights activists have done nothing but dedicate their lives to ending the practice of torture throughout the world. They've often done this by placing themselves directly in harm's way, and I might add they've done it without the benefits of tanks, semi-automatic weapons, body armour, and bombs. Human rights activists have suffered imprisonment, torture, and even execution in their attempt to defend others from these horrific fates. Human rights activists have worked to free children from sexual slavery and indentured servitude. Despite the terrible risks involved, human rights activists have tirelessly defended the belief that civilized societies must hold themselves to high standards of human decency in order to avoid degenerating into tyrannical brutality in the name of fear. What have you done to combat tyranny? Have you done anything besides enjoy a standard of living that many people can't even imagine well enough to dream about?
    M Hawkins, USA

    M Hawkins, thank you for an excellent response. Mr Kohler, there is a bigger world outside of Washington DC. This is a global effort to rid the world of all terrorism. At the end of the day, let's not forget that the USA (or Noraid) was at one time one of the biggest fundraisers for the IRA. Things seem very different when it happens on your own doorstep.
    Donald Green, Glasgow, UK

    This Human Rights Watch bunch have just denounced the democratically elected government of Australia as unfit to rule because of its "racism". Since when did a self-appointed group of foreigners have the right to attack a democratic country's choice of government? Wise up people, these are extremists out to destroy democracy in the name of "human rights". They don't give a stuff about the prisoners.
    KW, Australia


    Where were these human rights activists when Afghan women were being beaten?

    Prashant Mishra, San Diego, USA
    I have two words to say to all these human rights propaganda activists. Be quiet. All human beings are not equal and don't you insult me by putting me in the category as these butchers and maniacs. It was not a conventional war and they were not conventional soldiers so they are not conventional POWs. They were hiding behind the civilians all the time and they are the ones who caused every single civilian death there. There are other much better human beings who are suffering around the world and who still don't get what these criminals are getting for free! They are getting ethnic cuisines three times a day, they have mattresses to sleep on, their own separate cells and access to the exercise facilities. Where were these human rights activists when Afghan women were being beaten merely for showing off their bare hands? What are these activists doing other than criticising the government and the military? These attention seekers are more worried about the criminals than the other better human beings and civilians throughout the world.
    Prashant Mishra, San Diego, USA

    I see many contributors here criticising America in the strongest terms, and expressing sympathy and concern both for the Afghan people, and for the captured Taleban/al-Qaeda fighters. But those now slating America were notably disinterested when in the 80's the Russians were deliberately napalming entire villages, and ultimately slaughtering 1.5 million Afghans. I can only conclude that America's critics are motivated not a by a genuine concern for the Afghan people but by ingrained anti-American bigotry.
    Paul, UK

    Making sure that human rights are not violated in cases of normal human beings is important, but do these al-Qaeda or Taleban members fall under the normal human being category. They have been the biggest violators of human rights in recent years. They have been responsible for the death of thousands of innocent men, women and children not only in their own country but in other countries also. They are responsible for taking a religion hostage and committing horrendous crimes in the name of religion. After knowing all this do we still think these people's rights should not be violated. To be entitled to human rights you should act like a human being first and I think these people aren't even close.
    Sameer Vora, Boston, USA

    Whatever happened to leading by example? If the US really believes it is better than these "battlefield detainees", then I suggest that the Americans should show it by respecting international laws and conventions that they themselves would have no problem invoking if the boot were on the other foot.
    Steve, UK


    What I am most concerned about is self-censorship

    Manuel Valencia, USA
    I am not so worried about military tribunals for suspected terrorists, or the new wire tapping laws. What I am most concerned about is self-censorship. By that I mean people who disagree with Bush or any of his cronies, are now being muted about their feelings for fear of being labelled unpatriotic. This is a return to the cold war mentality. Our greatest freedom is the freedom to disagree and this is the freedom that has taken the greatest toll.
    Manuel Valencia, Phoenix, Arizona. USA.

    If this is not a war, and these are not POWs, it follows all deaths caused by the USA in Afghanistan are murder.
    Michael Grazebrook, Berlin, Germany (ex-UK)

    The Geneva Convention detailing the treatment of POWs has been severely contravened by the US. By classifying the individuals that were captured as 'battlefield detainees' the American government believes it can bypass the Convention with a play on words! The prisoners will then be tried at a Military Tribunal (with no appeal), with the ultimate punishment of death. Doubtless to say the proceedings will not be impartial or in anyway fair, but will serve those who are baying for retribution and of course George W's popularity polls. This will set a dangerous precedent for the future, and God (whether He be Muslim, Christian or Jewish) help any American soldier that is captured, as he or she will not have the safeguard of International Law or the Geneva Convention to save them after their own government's blatant disregard.
    Humaira Mahmud, London, UK


    Democracy is weak, and easily defeated by a strong and brave leader.

    Quentin Holt, New Zealand
    The so called war on terrorism is an excellent opportunity for all forward thinking nations to remove misguided individuals who oppose state policy. Democracy is weak, and easily defeated by a strong and brave leader. Such a leader can decide what is right and wrong for all citizens. Those dangerous elements who resist strong leadership are no doubt terrorists, and can be dealt with outside international law, as George Bush has demonstrated.
    Quentin Holt , Invercargill, New Zealand

    If people start turning a blind eye to the breaking of civil rights by any government, for any reason, who will draw the line for the government to follow? But if we say that these people are suspected of being terrorists (and remember, until any evidence or trial has taken place, suspected is all they can be), and they are being denied civil rights because of this -- what is to stop the government from arresting anyone under the same proviso, allowing them to do with the prisoner what they will? My second point is: if the US is to take the attitude of - "they don't respect our rights - why should we respect theirs?" how can they claim that their country and way of life is better? Thirdly, has anyone, outside of the heads of various governments, actually seen any evidence proving that these people are terrorists?
    Craig Miller, UK

    Surely the suspected terrorists in the US base in Cuba, should be kept in the strictest of prisons since they are suicidal and could do anything to anyone. What about the rights of the people the terrorists have hurt not only in New York but in Afghanistan and their own country of residence? I believe these people deserve anything and everything that the US government think necessary to help them in the war on terrorism and to find Osama bin Laden. The problem with the world today is everybody worrying about human rights, in my mind they have no rights for what they have done.
    Lee Buck, Aberdeen, Scotland


    The mistreatment of detainees will just increase the resolve of the oppressed to commit further acts of martyrdom

    Brian, Canada
    The disingenuous labelling of the Taleban prisoners of war, leaving them in legal limbo, cutting off their beards, herding them like cattle into open air pens to placate a misguided and vindictive US populace, is an act of pure bigotry. Instead of ameliorating the injustices giving cause to terrorism, the mistreatment of detainees will just increase the resolve of the oppressed to commit further acts of martyrdom in righting the scales of justice.
    Brian, Canada

    Strange how suddenly the airwaves are full of outraged human rights activists when America's actions come under question, yet the day-in day-out cruelties and abuses of many other states, some democratic and others with no such pretensions pass largely unheard. Am I really to believe that this is all completely objective and untainted by mere political calculation?
    Michael Salt, UK

    These people are extremely dangerous. They are a menace to world civilisation. The Geneva Convention never envisaged that men of such brutality and pure evil would ever be detained. They must be restrained effectively and totally and denied all rights of the civilisation they are trying to destroy. Give these people a chance and we would all be dead. I would rather forego certain freedoms and belief in unilateral human rights than be a victim of these scumbags.
    William , Singapore

    So William in Singapore believes the Geneva Convention wasn't designed to cope with prisoners "of such brutality and pure evil"? I'd disagree. The convention took its current form in 1949, in the wake of WWII and the Nazis. I think its authors knew what they were doing, and we discard the safeguards they created at our own risk.
    James W, UK

    To William, Singapore: Your ascertain about the Geneva Convention is rubbish. They are not all suicidal, just like not all Japanese combatants during WWII were suicidal. We afforded Japanese POW's their rights, so why not these captured fighters? These are not some breed of superhuman villains with strange powers that can only be countered by denying them some basic rights and dignity.
    Binx, UK

    I'm surprised that nobody has quoted Benjamin Franklin's: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Old Ben knew what he was talking about and some people who have responded here should think about what he is really saying - especially William in Singapore!
    Bob, Scotland

    The time is now to move forward and act. This could become the year of reckoning for mankind, peace and the unity of the human race.
    Joe Martin, Orlando, USA


    Given that the Red Cross have been given access to the prison facility it is clear that the Americans are trying to be as transparent as possible

    Nick, UK
    It is important that an individual's rights are protected and respected within the normal constraints of everyday life. However once you step outside of these boundaries, it is questionable whether the same rights should be applied given that these individuals have chosen to ignore are own human rights and wage war upon us regardless. The extreme form of theocracy that was practised by the Taleban and supported by bin Laden and his cronies completely flouted an individual's human rights. The liberal do-gooders who are now fussing about the rights of the prisoners seem to have conveniently forgotten about the thousands who were killed without trial in Afghanistan and all those killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th. The prisoners who are now being held by the Americans are likely to have their rights better honoured than if they were held elsewhere. Given that the Red Cross have been given access to the prison facility it is clear that the Americans are trying to be as transparent as possible.
    Nick, UK

    War always results in human rights violations. But it should not be a justification for it. That's why states made up the human rights conventions, for the protections of prisoners. Yes, the Taleban are terrorists. Yes, they have to be punished. But with human dignity. The West (the USA) should lead by example and show that this is a world where people's rights and dignity are respected. We should not act the same way as terrorists. This just causes more hate and therefore more war for the future.
    Maria Rodrigues, Luanda, Angola


    Robert Mugabe has definitely taken advantage of the WTC attack to further his own aims.

    Steve Wherle, UK
    In the case of Robert Mugabe, he has definitely taken advantage of the WTC attack in order to further his own aims. How would the Americans like it if George W were to ban all foreign reporters from the country, and accuse newspaper editors he didn't like of "supporting terrorism"?
    Steve Wehrle, Southampton, UK

    The idea that certain freedoms we enjoy here in the west must be removed to help support 'the war against terrorism' is ultimately self-defeating . Governments always use times of crisis to push through undemocratic and unpopular pieces of legislation, and once again we find 'democratic' governments, both here and in the US, more than willing to remove, and erode, our basic human rights .
    Andrew Rowley, Manchester , UK

    I think the issue hinges on the question of what measures are genuinely required to ensure the safety and security of the guards and the prisoners. If prisoners have to be manacled throughout the duration of the flight to avert any threat, fair enough - domestic prisoners in the US are treated the same way. Mind you, I'm not aware of any security-driven reason to hold them in cages exposed to the elements or to shave their beards off. Unless there is a good reason, the US puts itself at risk of seeming gratuitously vindictive.
    Graham Pierce, UK


    I would gladly sacrifice some of my privacy, and even some of my freedom of expression, in exchange for greatly increased security.

    Chris Watson, Australia
    There are two points here. First, are the prisoners' rights being abused? The treatment they are receiving is certainly stern, but absolutely NOT cruel or unreasonable. Secondly - many of the 'human rights' supposedly being abused in society broadly are trivial relative to the good that could come from some flexibility. I would gladly sacrifice some of my privacy to the Government (whom I control with my vote!), and even some of my freedom of expression (which is already controlled by defamation laws) in exchange for greatly increased security.

    Many of these freedoms are based on the notion that the Government is vastly more powerful than the individual, and therefore the balance needs to be overwhelmingly in favour of the individual - however Sept 11 has shown that in the modern world this is far less true than it once was. I believe there needs to be a redress of the balance away from individuals and corporate entities (who have similar rights to individuals) and towards the Government. The Government represents society - ourselves - and I believe too many lawbreakers and anti-society elements enjoy too much power to harm us with impunity. Not just Terrorists but organised (and other) criminals and out-of-control corporations could be more effectively investigated (and eliminated where desired) with just a very small sacrifice of individual rights.
    Chris Watson, Melbourne, Australia

    The violation of human rights has never been so displayed openly until the U.S. declared that the al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters were to be brought to Cuba as captives. I for one join the rest of the people who wonder why these captives are taken to Cuba when Bush said "justice will be delivered or they will be delivered to justice." Doesn't justice also cover human rights? I can see clearly however on BBC and CNN, a situation where foreign nationals (or Afghans/Taleban) are transferred (or kidnapped) to Cuba as detainees (or suspects) and being treated by the U.S (or captors) as detainees, with neither rights under Geneva Conventions, because they are not POW's, nor with personal privileges to have lawyers (because they are terrorists). In the meantime, they are placed in cages with no walls. (At least they enjoy a roof that's so hot during the day and so cold at night.) If this is not inhuman, what is?
    Prof Fred, Manila, Philippines

    The Geneva does not apply to these prisoners because it only covers the combatants of a war between two nations. If America never recognised the Taleban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, then this was not a 'war' between nations (no matter what rhetoric was used by the allied leaders), but rather a police action by America and its allies against the private army of what America sees as a criminal organisation. I don't know what rights the prisoners have, but they will not be defined by the Geneva convention.

    A second point to Peter Kohler, amongst others: how can we justify our actions by comparing them against those of our enemy, when all along we have been saying that our enemy is evil? The West must strive for higher moral standards otherwise we are no better than the barbarous tyrants we seek to dethrone.
    Richard Johnson, Melbourne, Australia

    They are better off than many starving US war veterans. I could care less what happens to them. Once they admit there intent to kill as many Americans as possible they should tried and executed. Bleeding hearts did not win freedom in WWII and they wont here. Force has to be met with force. And these people are better off than most. No harm is being done, they are being fed and have medical treatment. I work hard, donate money to charity and try to live a good life and not hurt others and I get none of the things these people get for free. Enough!
    Timothy Ora Smith, Phoenix, AZ USA

    Speaking as someone who worked in the World Trade Centre on the 68th Floor, just what are we fighting for if we take away the very rights and freedoms we want to defend? Its a bit pointless. I believe that they do have to stop what's going on in the world with terrorists, but it should never be used as an excuse to take away our rights. If it is we end up with witch hunts, McCarthy type trials. Suddenly anyone who offers a different opinion gets stuck in a show trial. We have to be very careful of what is being carried out in our names.
    David, New York, USA


    My government's recent actions really make us appear barbaric.

    Dave, New York
    I'm terribly concerned about these military tribunals and "intensive interrogations." The overt statements that the captured soldiers are not prisoners of war, and the insistence on trying them without civil judge all seems aimed to excuse or hide torture. Sure, it won't be the classic cigar burns or pulled-out fingernails, but my government's recent actions really make us appear barbaric. If we are not torturing these prisoners, we should stop this stupid "they don't technically have Geneva Convention rights" game, because it certainly gives the impression of barbarity.
    Dave, New York

    Human Rights Watch is right about this. Here in Uganda the opposition is pressing for the lifting of multiparty politics banned for over 15 years ever since the NRM came to power. Protestors came under gunfire last weekend, leading to the death of an innocent student. President Museveni later said the political party agitators are terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and that's why his army shot at them.
    Ssaalongo, Kampala, Uganda

    Increasingly, legitimate forms of protest and avenues of dissent are becoming unacceptable to governments and an unquestioning and understandably fearful public. Ironically, the very freedoms we strive to protect and preserve, including the right to hold and peacefully express a dissenting view are being undermined like never before. Peaceful and non-violent forms of dissent, protest and criticism are increasingly branded as terrorist or potential terrorist activity.

    Recently, Greenpeace activists, protesting the US missile defence program were branded as internal terrorists for interrupting the missile tests. Some of the protesters face felony charges for what should be classified as a misdemeanour.

    In a climate of heightened anxiety, governments and corporations are using the 'terrorist' tag to quash any form of dissent and protest. Anti-WTO protesters, environmentalists, those striving for the rights of a minority are falling under this blanket branding. The extreme form of this is the Israeli government's recent activity against the Palestinians. The tag 'terrorism' providing an air of legitimacy to their activities. This is a worrying trend.
    Grant, Sydney, Australia

    Grant: The protesters were not labelled as terrorists. Most of them were given a few days in jail and the rest face misdemeanour charges. They were arrested because they trespassed on military territory and could easily have potentially been killed by debris and faulty explosions. I should know what went on because I was there. Imagine if a British citizen started roaming a Chinese military base while they were performing a top secret defence test.

    I think we should parade the Taleban through the streets of New York City. They are in need of a holiday due to recent events. Weżll see how tough the Taleban really are.
    Georgie, United States

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Andreas Kouris, Greece
    "It shouldn't only be America handling this, it should be an international coalition."
    Antonia Henrique Amaral, Brazil
    "These prisoners are definitely war prisoners and should be treated as such."
    Jonathon Lieberman, USA
    "These people are getting a free holiday in the Caribbean."
    Faisal Shamsia
    "If this is a war - then they are prisoner of war."
    Hans Elleby
    "The Americans should remember: Do unto others as will be done to you."
    Williams Stevens, Singapore
    "I am very pleased with how the International Red Cross is handling it."
    Max Mahajan
    "At times [the West] uses human rights as a political tool."
    See also:

    16 Jan 02 | Americas
    War on terror 'curbing human rights'
    16 Jan 02 | Americas
    UN concern for US Afghan captives
    15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
    Britain and US discuss Cuba captives
    16 Jan 02 | South Asia
    Harsh detention for Afghan prisoners
    11 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    Tougher terror laws challenged
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