Reuters
January 11, 2002


Pentagon: Geneva Convention Doesn't Cover Detainees


WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Hundreds of dangerous al Qaeda and Taliban detainees held by the U.S. military are ``unlawful combatants,'' not prisoners of war, and not guaranteed rights under the 1949 Geneva Convention, Pentagon leaders said on Friday.

``These are people that would gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down,'' Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said as an initial planeload of 20 shackled and hooded prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from Afghanistan.

``So these are very, very dangerous people. And that's how they're being treated,'' Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, added at a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld bridled at suggestions from groups such as Amnesty International that in-flight restrictions on the hard-line supporters of fugitive Osama bin Laden might be too harsh. He noted that one of the 20 had to be sedated during the flight from Kandahar to the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo.

``They will be handled not as prisoners of war, because they are not, but as unlawful combatants,'' Rumsfeld said in response to questions. He said civilian police regularly shackle dangerous prisoners for movement.

'CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE' MEALS

But Rumsfeld and the general stressed that the prisoners, most believed to be Muslims, would be treated fairly and fed

''culturally appropriate'' meals consistent with a religious diet in the harsh confines of a razor-wire enclosed facility at Guantanamo Bay.

``Technically, unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva convention. We have indicated that we do plan to, for the most part, treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva conventions to the extent they are appropriate,'' Rumsfeld said.

The U.S. military already has control of another 425 al Qaeda and Taliban captives in Afghanistan and aboard a Navy warship and says that many are perhaps suicidal followers of al Qaeda guerrilla leader bin Laden, accused by Washington of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

The United States intends to move dozens of them to a razor-wire enclosed high security facility at Guantanamo Bay, although it has not made clear how many.

None of the ``detainees'' have been charged with crimes, although some could face military courts martial authorized by President Bush following the September 11 attacks.

The Third Geneva Convention, signed in 1949, sets out rights for prisoners of war (POWs).

GENEVA CONVENTION SETS OUT RIGHTS

Under its terms, prisoner quarters must meet the same standard as those of the captor forces -- not damp and with adequate heat and lighting.

Prisoners must be provided with drinking water and fed according to cultural or religious preferences. Medical care must be available for those who need it.

``The meals (that) are going to be served are going to be culturally appropriate for them,'' Myers said of the prisoners in Guantanamo.

``And so, I mean, we're going to try to do our best to treat them humanely at the same time realizing that they're very, very dangerous people.''

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon, with a lot of legal advice, was drawing fine lines on treatment of the detainees and that the Geneva Convention would be generally observed.

``I wouldn't want to say that I know in any instance where we would deviate from that or where we might exceed it. But I'm sure we'll probably be on both sides of it, modestly,'' he told reporters.

Under the convention, prisoners have the right to contact with the outside world. They can send letters home and receive mail or small packages of food, medicine and clothing.

Prisoners should be allowed to fill out a ``capture card'' within seven days of arriving at a camp to let their families know their whereabouts.

Article 42 states: ``The use of weapons against prisoners of war, especially against those who are escaping or attempting to escape, shall constitute an extreme measure, which shall always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances''

Copyright 2002. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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