Tags: Rumsfeld | Stands | Pat | 'Unlawful | Combatants'

Rumsfeld Stands Pat On 'Unlawful Combatants'

Sunday, 27 January 2002 12:00 AM

"We would be doing a great service to all nations to blur the distinction between combatants and stateless terrorists,” he said.

A federal court in Los Angeles agreed last week to hear a petition presented by civil rights advocates on behalf of the detainees. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been advising the administration to provide the detainees with all the rights and privileges of POWS under the Geneva Convention.

The key issue: whether the "unlawful combatants” (as U.S. officials refers to them) have been fighting for a government or a stateless terrorist organization. If Judge Los Angeles Federal judge Howard Matz finds that it is a government, he could then determine if the prisoners are being held in violation of the US Constitution and the Geneva Convention, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld has insisted from the beginning, however, "They will be handled not as prisoners of war, because they’re not, but as unlawful combatants. 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.”

Amnesty International and others in the coalition, however, have argued that those held in Guantanamo are presumed to be prisoners of war, and if there is any doubt about their status, it is not the prerogative of the US secretary of defense to unilaterally make the determination.

According to Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention, said Amnesty, the US must convene a "competent tribunal” that is competent and impartial to decide on their status.

This is also the position exposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, considered a key interpreter of the Geneva Conventions.

Kim Gordon-Bates, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has inspected the Guantanamo base, said the concept of an "unlawful combatant” did not exist under international law. Rumsfeld thus far has not authorized the release to the public of the Red Cross inspection report.

"You can look through the Geneva Convention and you will not find it. It is not a legal term,” Gordon-Bates told BBC Radio.

"A prisoner of war cannot be prosecuted for taking up arms and fighting. If you are defending your country against a foreign enemy and the foreign enemy wins and you are detained by that enemy, he cannot prosecute you for defending your country.”

But Jay C Farrar of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington DC, agreed with Rumsfeld, saiding the detainees abandoned their rights as sovereign nationals when they chose to participate in the stateless pursuit of terrorism.

"The sole purpose for their membership in the terrorist network was to kill and injure non-combatants in a deceitful campaign in pursuit of a goal that violates the international law of war, let alone pertinent national laws,” Farrar told the British press.

Geoffrey Robertson, a British specialist in international law, said one advantage for America in keeping the detainees from enjoying full status as prisoners of war, which allows prisoners to state only their name, rank and service number, is that US intelligence gatherers would be less encumbered.

Rumsfeld said that one detainee at Guantanamo has threatened to kill Americans, and another has bitten a U.S. military guard, compelling the military jailers to take extradinary measures to ensure security.

But Amnesty has expressed concern, saying the open cages at Gunatanamo "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment.”

Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the US Southern Command in Miami, said a Muslim navy officer and cleric would be brought to the base soon to attend to the prisoners’ needs.

The Prime Minister’s Tony Blairs recent comment before the House Of Commons that the US detainees give full POW standing has interpreted by commentators as the British government’s first riff with its American ally.

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We would be doing a great service to all nations to blur the distinction between combatants and stateless terrorists," he said. A federal court in Los Angeles agreed last week to hear a petition presented by civil rights advocates on behalf of the detainees. Meanwhile,...
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Sunday, 27 January 2002 12:00 AM
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