11 September 2001>News Stories>US 'rewriting rules on prisoners'

US 'rewriting rules on prisoners'

BBC News . 08 February 2002

Washington says detainees are being treated humanely

Bush has come in for criticism over treatment of prisoners.

Human rights groups have criticised US President George W Bush's decision that the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war will apply to captured Taleban soldiers, but not al-Qaeda fighters.

The White House continues to maintain that neither Taleban soldiers nor al-Qaeda fighters detained in Afghanistan and at the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba qualify as prisoners-of-war.

This is because they had not carried arms openly or been part of a recognisable military hierarchy, it says.

Under the conventions, prisoners-of-war are entitled to remain silent under interrogation, giving only their names, ranks and serial numbers.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that although the United States did not recognise the Taleban as a legitimate government, it had decided to apply the Geneva Conventions because Afghanistan was a signatory of the treaty.

He added: "Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist group and cannot be considered a state party to the Geneva Convention."

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said that Mr Bush was wrong to take such a decision "without convening a competent tribunal, as required by the Geneva Conventions".

They said the conventions provided explicit protection to all combatants captured in an international armed conflict.

"The administration is right to acknowledge that it has to play by the rules, but it can't rewrite the rules to suit its purposes," said the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.

They also warned that the decision might put soldiers
around the world at risk.

"It [the decision] is not left to the president of that country or the secretary of defence. If US soldiers were captured, we wouldn't want the president of that country to make that determination," said Alexandra Arrriaga of Amnesty International USA.

International outrage

The Bush administration has been heavily criticised for the treatment of some 150 prisoners transferred from Afghanistan to Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay last month. Another 28 prisoners arrived there on Thursday.

But Washington has repeatedly insisted that the prisoners are being detained in conditions that are in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Despite the administration's latest decision on their designation, Mr Fleischer said, there would be no difference in how the two groups of prisoners are treated.

"It will not change their material life on a day to day basis. They will continue to be treated well, because that's what the United States does," Mr Fleischer said.

Mr Fleischer said the International Committee of the Red Cross would be allowed to visit each detainee privately - and they would be give three meals a day, medical treatment and the opportunity for religious worship.