Terrorism: January 31, 2002


The US has flatly refused to classify the captured al Qaeda (and some Taliban) troops as "Prisoners of War" under the Geneva Convention, although it is treating them as such except in the case of interrogations. Under the Convention, POWs cannot be compelled to provide more than the classic "name, rank, service number, and date of birth" while "detained criminals" can be questioned in more detail and expected to answer. The Geneva Conventions provide that if there is "any doubt" as to whether a given person is a POW or a detained criminal, he must be treated as a POW until a tribunal determines his status. The US says that "there is no doubt" that these people are criminals, not soldiers, and thus are not POWs. The US is holding at least nine high-level Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners on the amphibious carrier USS Bataan and won't allow the Red Cross to see them. Under Article 22 of the Third Geneva Convention, POWs cannot be held on a ship any longer than is needed to transfer them to a prison camp on land.--Stephen V Cole


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