- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fired back yesterday at critics of President Bush's decision to deny prisoner-of-war status to Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners, describing a continuing outcry as "international hyperventilation."
The State Department, meanwhile, clarified Mr. Bush's decision to apply the Geneva Conventions to Taliban, but not al Qaeda, prisoners, declaring that none of the detainees would receive hearings under the conventions to determine their status.
The president on Thursday reversed an earlier determination that neither Taliban nor al Qaeda prisoners were covered by the Geneva Conventions. However, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and human rights groups renewed their criticism yesterday, saying the decision did not go far enough.
Mr. Rumsfeld, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said the 186 detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba were being well-treated, regardless of their status.
"Notwithstanding the isolated pockets of international hyperventilation, we do not treat the detainees in any manner other than a manner that is humane," he said.
Officials in Britain, Germany and elsewhere have repeatedly expressed misgivings about the treatment of the detainees, who were photographed while kneeling, wearing masks and in shackles.
Mr. Rumsfeld attacked the press for "misrepresentation" of the photos of the detainees arriving in Cuba and for suggesting that torture could have been used against them.
"The newspaper headlines that yelled, 'Torture! What's next? Electrodes?' and all of this rubbish was so inexcusable that it does make one wonder why we put out any photographs, if that's the way they're going to be treated, so irresponsibly," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Despite a determination that the detainees are not prisoners of war, they will continue to be treated humanely and "receive three appropriate meals a day, medical care, clothing, showers, visits from chaplains, Muslim chaplains as appropriate, and the opportunity to worship freely," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"We will continue to allow the ICRC to visit each detainee privately, a right that's normally only accorded to individuals who qualify as prisoners of war under the [Third Geneva] Convention."
In his announcement Thursday, Mr. Bush said the Geneva Conventions would be applied to Taliban fighters but not to members of al Qaeda, who are trained for terrorism, fought without uniforms, hid among civilians and participated in or planned attacks on civilians in other countries.
The conventions require that, where there is doubt about a prisoner's status, he should receive a hearing before a "competent tribunal" to determine whether he should be treated as a prisoner of war.
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that not even the Taliban prisoners will receive such hearings.
"All these people have been screened several times before they were taken and after they were taken to Guantanamo, and we don't think there's any doubt in these cases," he said.
The ICRC, which monitors compliance with the Geneva Conventions, criticized that position in a formal statement last night.
"There are divergent views between the United States and the ICRC on the procedures which apply on how to determine that the persons detained are not entitled to prisoner of war status," the statement said.
It noted that declaring the detainees prisoners of war would not preclude the United States from prosecuting those prisoners "suspected of having comitted war crimes or any other criminal offense prior to or during the hostilities."
Mr. Bush's decision also was criticized by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, an international nongovernmental organization that works to support international law that advances human rights.
"The decision by President Bush to apply the Third Geneva Convention to the conflict in Afghanistan, but deny prisoner of war status to Guantanamo Bay detainees is incorrect in law," it said in a statement.
Amnesty International also called for a tribunal to rule on the status of the prisoners, and France said it disagreed with the decision that the Geneva Conventions would not be applied to al Qaeda prisoners.

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