11 September 2001>News Stories>EU presses US on prisoner rights

EU presses US on prisoner rights

BBC News . 21 January 2002

The US insists it is treating the prisoners humanely

The US said the prisoners were only restrained for a short while

The European Union has said America must treat suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters held at its military base in Cuba as prisoners of war.
The United States has come under increasing international pressure to ensure the captives are treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention on PoWs amid concern over possible human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Monday America might have violated the convention by distributing pictures of the prisoners, which were published by media outlets worldwide.

The US has rejected the criticism and insisted the suspects were being treated humanely.

Speaking on Spanish television, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he expected the US to treat the 158 detainees in line with international law.

"The Geneva Convention must be applied to everyone who is detained in similar circumstances," he said.

The Netherlands also said America should recognise the detainees as PoWs, saying "In the fight (against terrorism), we need to uphold our norms and values".

According to the Americans, the suspects are not PoWs, but "illegal combatants" and are therefore not covered by the convention.

Correspondents say perhaps what worries Washington the most is that if they were classed as PoWs, the Geneva Convention would entitle the prisoners to refuse to give their interrogators any information other than their names, ranks and serial numbers.

There was outrage in Europe after the prisoners were photographed wearing orange jump suits, shackled and kneeling, with goggles over their eyes and masks over their mouths and noses.

The Americans said the prisoners were restrained when they arrived as a "security precaution" before they were moved to their cells.

'No complaints'
Britain - America's main ally in the military campaign in Afghanistan - has sought to avoid criticising the US on the prisoner issue.

The UK prime minister's office said Monday three British prisoners held at Camp X-Ray "had no complaints about their treatment".

A spokesman said the prisoners were "in good physical health and there was no sign of any mistreatment".

Fourteen prisoners arrived at the camp on stretchers on Monday suffering gunshot wounds.

Officials said more wounded suspects would be brought to the camp in the next few days for treatment which they could not receive in Afghanistan.