- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

Vice President Richard B. Cheney said yesterday that captured al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists do not qualify for treatment as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, but acknowledged that the State Department believes they do.
"Everybody in the administration, including my good friend [Secretary of State] Colin Powell, agree these are not POWs in the conventional sense," Mr. Cheney said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."
Mr. Cheney said they are "unlawful combatants" who "don't meet the requirements for the laws of war."
However, a White House memo obtained by The Washington Times last week states that Mr. Powell and his legal adviser have "expressed a different view" that President Bush ought to reverse his Jan. 18 decision that the captured terrorists are not entitled to Geneva Convention rights.
"The secretary of state has requested that you reconsider that decision," White House Counsel Al Gonzales wrote in a memo Friday to Mr. Bush, which was circulated to Cabinet secretaries, the CIA and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Specifically, he has asked that you conclude that GPW [Geneva Convention II on the Treatment of Prisoners of War] does apply to both al Qaeda and the Taliban."
According to the memo, the State Department believes the United States should presume Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists to be prisoners of war unless a military panel specifically determines otherwise for any particular guerrilla.
In his appearances on the political talk shows yesterday, Mr. Cheney, questioned about the disclosure of the memo in The Times on Saturday, pointed out there is a category for unlawful combatants under the Geneva Convention.
"The State Department argument is that they ought to be treated within the Geneva Convention but, under that convention, deemed unlawful combatants," which would provide them with rights less expansive than those for prisoners of war, the vice president explained.
"There is a legal issue involved as to whether they should be treated within the confines of the Geneva Convention, which does have a section that deals with unlawful combatants, or whether they should be dealt with outside the Geneva Convention," Mr. Cheney said in a separate interview on "Fox News Sunday."
The Gonzales memo, however, said that Mr. Powell wants al Qaeda and Taliban captives classified as Geneva Convention POWs. The administration's present position is that the Geneva Convention does not apply at all in the case of persons who engage in terrorist attacks.
Most members of Mr. Bush's foreign policy team are on that side of the debate, and Attorney General John Ashcroft and Mr. Gonzales are recommending that the policy remain.
Opponents of the change sought by Mr. Powell are worried about convention provisions that would require captives to be treated as POWs in cases where there is doubt about their classification.
Under those regulations, a detainee would retain the POW status untill a "competent tribunal" determines his proper designation. As a POW, a captive terrorist could not be involuntarily interrogated. A POW is required to give only his name, rank and serial number. A POW would also have to be released when the war in Afghanistan is over.
Without saying so directly, Mr. Cheney made it clear he objects to the change the State Department is seeking.
"These are bad people. I mean they've already been screened before they get to Guantanamo," the naval base in Cuba where 158 detainees are currently incarcerated, he said on ABC.
"They may well have information about future terrorist attacks against the United States. We need that information. We need to be able to interrogate them and extract from them whatever information they have. … So there are very good reasons why they're being treated" as they are at this time, the vice president added.
Responding on Saturday to the article in The Times, Sean McCormick, spokesman for the National Security Council, denied Mr. Powell wants the detainees classified as POWs.
He said the memo in question was a draft that contained "inaccuracies" regarding Mr. Powell's position on the detainees.
The memo showed that Mr. Powell's concerns will be addressed at a meeting today of the National Security Council.
A White House spokeswoman yesterday confirmed that Mr. Bush will attend the meeting but noted he normally does so.
One of the questions Mr. Powell reportedly wants answered is whether the Geneva Convention requires formal hearings before detainees are turned down as POWs.
In his first visit to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday ruled out any possibility of granting POW status to the terrorists being held there. "They are not POWs. They will not be determined to be POWs," he told reporters.
He held that convention provisions calling for the convening of military tribunals to decide whether a captive should be considered a POW would be irrelevant at Guantanamo.
"There is no ambiguity" with this population, he said.
On Fox, Mr. Cheney said the Geneva Convention was "set up to deal with a war between sovereign states" and includes provisions to deal with civil wars.
"But in a case where you have non-state actors out to kill civilians, then there's a serious question whether they should be dealt with inside the Geneva Convention," he said.
Mr. Cheney said administration lawyers are debating the legal issues.
"It'll go to the president. He'll make a decision," he said.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, interviewed on CNN's "Late Edition," insisted there is "no split" among senior administration officials on the issue of detainees.
As for those concerned about the treatment the captives are receiving, Mr. Card said, "They're getting good human rights treatment. They are getting three squares a day. They have the opportunity to exercise their religion. They are getting exercise time. And they're also being interrogated."
Mr. Card did not answer directly when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if the prisoners should get Geneva Convention protections.
He echoed the claims of other administration officials that the prisoners are already being treated in a manner consistent with the convention.''

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