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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 18:04 GMT
Cuban detainees: Are they prisoners of war?
Speaking during a visit to the camp along with four other US senators, Mr Rumsfeld told reporters that the war against terrorism required a new way of thinking and new concepts.
The remarks were intended as a response to continuing debate about the legal status of the prisoners, and whether they should be granted prisoner of war rights under the Geneva Convention.
He said the al-Qaeda prisoners did not belong to an army, or wear distinguishable uniforms and insignia - they were people engaged in attacks on civilians and insisted they could not be treated as POWs.
Should the Afghan prisoners be given POW status?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The principle problem is that the attitude and actions of Al Qaeda have no precedent. With no formal declaration of war, the organisation that these prisoners have chosen to stand up and be counted with, slaughtered 4,000 innocent people in a few short hours. I realise US foreign policy leaves a lot to be desired, but nothing justifies this kind of thing.
You cannot blame the Americans for not giving them an inch. Perhaps those who criticise should go and guard these people for a few hours and then say that their treatment is too harsh. I personally think the Americans are acting in self preservation, and I cannot blame them at all. As long as the prison provides ample food, water and shelter from the elements, and a fair, impartial trial occurs sooner rather than later, there are no reasonable grounds for complaint.
I can't believe how fickle the liberal media are. The villains of the last 4 months are suddenly being made into the good guys!
A lot of good points out here. However, the fact of the matter is that these people want to kill the "infidels", and are continuing in their attempts. How much respect does that deserve? Are we to jeopardize a nation's safety for the opinions of the humanitarian effort? These detainees aren't being treated poorly, they are cuffed because they are dangerous. How do we pity them more than the thousands of innocent people that perished for no apparent good reason? Let us not forget that captive or not, these people are on a mission of destruction. As long as they are clothed and fed they are being treated with as much dignity as murderers deserve.
Prisoners of war or not, they're the lucky few! The Taleban prisoners in Afghan prisons are going hungry, are freezing, living in filth, in prisons filled eight-times over capacity, and are actually begging to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.
The US threatened the attacks of Sept 11th as acts of war. We attacked Afghanistan in turn. We've rounded up the combatants as a result of combat.
Like it or not. They're POW's. Whether or not their acts of terrorism are war crimes is for the courts to decide.
I don't think the US is going to benefit from this in the long run. What's to stop anyone from taking US soldiers and labelling them as unlawful combatants instead of POW's. I don't think we would be too impressed if that happened. In fact we'd be screaming our collective heads off.
It's unfortunate the government is being so short-sighted, again.
JW, London, UK
The Cuban detainees are enemies of society
that have no regard for who they kill. They have
one motive...and, that is to destroy innocent people.
The question 'are they prisoners of war'? is meaningless.
They have been apprehended because they are killers.
Most are Saudis. (Unfortunately for Saudi Arabia). This
does not change the fact that they must be detained and
prevented from doing any further damage to civilians. The
US has been patient with them and treated them very well.
Did these terrorists think about the innocent men and women
they murdered? Or, the families that have been grief stricken?
Of course not. And, they gave no thought to good people they
made to be victims. These terrorists deserve only one thing. To
be isolated from civilized people and society.
I think that, regardless of whether the prisoners have official POW status, the US should treat them with as much respect as possible until it decides their fate. They entered their war claiming to be defenders of civilisation, which I take to be the application of a humane consensus. This is not to say that they should not punish anyone that they find guilty, only that they should be certain. I also think that they have a questionable right to punish members of the Taleban. It should be the job of the Afghanis or the UN.
I am shocked that these prisoners are being detained in cages measuring 8 x 8 feet. Even an animal's cage at the zoo is bigger than that.
Adrian B, UK
These detainees are soldiers fighting for an army they chose to be in and are did what their superiors told them to do. They are soldiers fighting, just like any other countries soldiers fighting for their countries cause. I don't believe they did know intelligence information they were just soldiers. Likewise one could also punish other soldiers fighting for their countries beliefs, etc. They are not the cause, they are just caught up in the turmoil. They should be treated as POW, if the Americans wish to call their fight "War on Terrorism".
Yes, they are war prisoners. I do not care how Bush and his friends classify them. We went to war, and captured them. Whether or not they have uniforms or name badges, they are still war captives and should be treated as such.
People don't seem to realise that 'unlawful combatants' isn't something that's been made up - it exists for spies, and should also exist for terrorists. People in future should be deterred from joining terrorist organisations by making these people pay the price, whether it be with their lives or freedoms.
The question is not "should they be treated as POWs", it is should they be treated as "Suspect" or "Guilty". We have already seen that John Walker Lindh has been given the benefit of the presumption of innocence unlike his Middle Eastern brethren. The treatment of POWs should be the lowest acceptable level of treatment. Any new categorisation must at least meet this standard.
The detainees in Cuba should not be granted prisoner of war status. Donald Rumsfeld said that if these prisoners become prisoners of war, they do not have to answer questions put to them except for the very basic personal ones, such as names, etc. The US wants to be able to question them extensively about terrorist activities and any plots that may be in the works right now. Rumsfeld has also said they are very close to talking. Keep in mind that this information could thwart any possible future attacks world-wide and save many innocent lives.
No less a person than the secretary of state Collin Powell strongly recommends that the Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay be treated as prisoners of war, as per the Geneva Convention.
The attitude of Bush and Rumsfeld should be magnanimous in victory. Are they peeved that they couldn't nab the big two- Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden?
The Geneva Convention says that POWs have to be released when the war is over. This is almost an incentive for a country to start a war and a carte-blanch for terrorists like Al-Qaeda, no matter what they do they can't lose. The Geneva Convention has to be revised and in the meanwhile not followed. Rumsfeld is right.
Nicholas Eyre, Italy
Surely the burden of proof, for non-POW status as well as for whatever crimes they've allegedly committed, is on the USA? They should be treated as POWs until some formal review board decides, on a case by case basis, if they qualify. That, I gather, is how the system for these things usually works. So why not this time?
Contrary to what many people have said
over the past few weeks you CAN interrogate POWs.
The Geneva convention prohibits using torture or the
threat of torture to obtain information but does not
prohibit interrogation per se.
I've little sympathy for the detainees of this camp, but I find the way the Americans are treating them to be deeply disturbing. From the outset, the USA and it's allies took the moral high ground, and spoke in terms of a 'war on behalf of civilisation' against an evil Taliban regime who had no respect for human rights. Surely now they've won, America should be bending over backwards to treat (and be seen to treat) all captured enemy soldiers in accordance with the Geneva convention, even if they don't technically qualify as POW's.
Michael Entill, UK
I don't understand the arguments that just because the USA declared a "War on Terrorism" that the terrorists are PoWs, does that mean that drug dealers arrested during a "War on Drugs" are also PoWs? The only prisoners who can be considered PoWs are the Taliban - actual soldiers fighting for their country, the members of al-Qaeda are terrorists which makes them criminals and not PoWs.
Once again, the general public displays an astounding lack of comprehension about the Geneva Conventions and the realities of war. First, the Conventions were merely a written record of the evolution of warfare up to the point when they were written. They do not take into account the rise of terrorist activities and the structure and methods of terrorist organisations. Just as the Conventions are a record of the evolution of POW treatment UP TO 1946, we must be willing to adapt our treatment further in the future as necessary in the ever-changing face of warfare. To wait for a lumbering international body to do this would be counterproductive and mean valuable time lost in interrogating current suspects. The US is forced to act unilaterally until the rest of civilisation catches up to them.
Second, the Conventions allow for the existence of unlawful combatants - those that do not bear insignia, fight openly, or follow a recognised chain of command. The relevance of this to al-Qaeda is obvious; additionally, the Taliban were not a recognised army of a recognised government; even the UN refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of this militia occupying the land of the Afghanis. Unlawful combatants are not granted POW rights under the Conventions.
Third, regardless of their non-POW status, the US is STILL providing not only humane treatment, but conditions better than many US soldiers have recently experienced in Afghanistan for weeks on end.
Liberals, please, put your innate jealously and distrust of the Americans behind you and at least attempt to think rationally about the situation.
They're one of three things:
Guy Hammond, England
Now the US defence secretary claims that these men are not POW's because they do not adhere to his western perception of a professional Army. The fact they do not wear uniforms does have relevance in combat in one situation. Our own SAS when conducting insurgent operations do not wear uniforms, nor do they in their more conventional role wear Rank or Insignia. When out of uniform they risk the sentence of death under the Geneva convention. However these men were sponsored by the Government of Afghanistan, and as such were not in a foreign land. The British Army itself uses foreign troops in the Ghurkha regiments. Whether or not this was a legal regime is not relevant, and certainly not for one side to decide when they were involved as combatants. This issue must be decided upon by a neutral power.
Is the US Reporter seized and held hostage in Pakistan going to be granted POW status? How humane will his living conditions be? Can he expect fresh air, sunshine, three squares a day, and religious expression? The bottom line is this: the arrangements on Guantanamo are TEMPORARY. Do you expect the US to put these guys up in the Ritz Carlton until a suitable prison can be built to house them? Or perhaps you think that they'd be better off in that lovely prison in Mazar e Sharif where they rioted because of a lack of food and medical care. Doesn't the recent hostage situation at the hospital in Kandahar tell you just how dangerous handling these guys is? I'm certain if Al-Qaeda rammed a plane into Buckingham Palace or British Parliament the cries for treating them 'humane' would cease from our friends across the pond.
Dan, New York, NY USA
I think most of the posters here need to familiarize themselves with the definition of a legitimate combatant according to the Geneva Convention. The members of al-Qaeda are terrorists, they were in Afghanistan training in techniques that would allow them to inflict the maximum casualties in a civilian attack. These are not the people the Geneva Conventions were designed to protect.
If we decide not to call the Taliban fighters captured prisoners of war just because we don¿t like them then its really pointless in having a Geneva Convention. After all it¿s very unlikely that two friendly nations who like and trussed each other are going to go to war just for the hell of it.
John Adlington, UK
I agree with Karel that a new status should be accorded these prisoners. I don't care what we call them and I don't believe they are being treated inhumanely, but there is certainly nothing wrong with recognizing that they don't fit neatly into any of our existing categories and collaborating with other nations to define new standards more appropriate to the current situation. I would insist, however, that these standards provide an acceptable level of security. I can't believe that anyone would consider the measures taken to quell the prisoner uprisings in Afghanistan to be more humane than those taken to ensure security at Camp X-Ray.
The POW status is not for these terrorists. They are not member of a legitimate army. They should be considered like pirates. Perhaps a new status should be developed, so that these people will remain outlawed.
No! They are not prisoners of war. They are terrorists and should be treated accordingly. Furthermore any British 'subject' who has fought against the country should be tried for treason and in found guilty hanged! Treason is the only law that exists in this country that holds the penalty of death - If you cannot be loyal to your country, then hang!
The reason for the US not wishing to give POW status to these people is almost certainly because they want to retain the right to interrogate them in the hope of gaining more information on al-Qaeda.
If the al-Qaeda prisoners don't belong to an army or wear uniforms, what exactly are they to be charged with? Disagreeing with American foreign policy, wearing a beard and carrying a gun? I know a lot of Americans that would fit that bill.
If the September the 11th attacks on America were said to be "an attack on us all". Why does America want to be seen as Judge, Jury and Executioner? Surely the best thing would be to hand over the prisoners to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague or, at the very least, the United Nations...
If they are not prisoners of war, are there laws in the American justice system that allow non-American nationals committing murders against non-American nationals on non-American soil to be judged by an American court?
It was the USA that decided to declare a "war" on terrorism, so it could decide to act with great magnanimity, and show the prisoners a level of respect that they probably don't deserve. This would no doubt impress on the international stage, but I think other considerations are more important to the Bush administration. The American public seems to have a voracious appetite when it comes to seeing wrongdoers punished, and the President himself is well known for pandering to this particular trait.
Of course they should be given POW status. What else do you call people captured in a war?!?
Rob Morris, UK
I do not know what the Geneva Convention entails. But as humans let us treat them as fellow human beings. Let us not stoop down to treating them like zoo animals.
In response to Amit from India, those detainees in the camps are not being treated as zoo animals. They are given three meals a day, shelter, and there religious needs are taken care of. They are receiving better care than in their own countries, at least they know when there next meal in coming. For the safety of OUR troops we must keep the people separated, they are dangerous and could plot an escape or even worse. If it was your countries I am sure you would support the actions of your troops. I would also like to add if they caught our soldiers, you know as well as I do they wouldn't be so merciful!
27 Jan 02 | Americas
No POW rights for Cuba prisoners
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
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