RANGER AGAINST WAR: Detainees are the New POW's <

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Detainees are the New POW's

I'm confused (and it's not just because I'm an infantryman.)

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled the head of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, and quoted him as saying, "Over 40,000 pieces of mail have come in and out of here. If you chose to write one of them a letter, all you need to do is put their name on it, say
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, put our zip code on it, and they will get that letter" (WSJ, "War Inside the Wire," 10/16/06). It all sounds very upright, tinged with that humble, yet earnest, note that we envison in the consummate civil servant.

But then I see, less than two weeks on, that the Navy has confiscated more than 1,100 pounds of detainee mail, "hampering detainees' ability to confront accusations against them" ("Navy Confiscating Detainees' Hopes," Andrew O. Selsky, AP, 10/29/06). I'm guessing it's not the Pottery Barn catalogs that get confiscated, and denying defense materials goes beyond the pale.

Feeling rather Clintonesque, I knew the whole thing hinged on a word, so I looked up the definition of
detainee: a term used by certain governments to refer to individuals held in custody, such as those it does not classify and treat as either POW's or suspects in criminal cases.

The focus of U.S. efforts should be prosecution of terrorist criminals, and respect for the rights of genuine POW's. I highly back judicial action against terror suspects; I equally support Geneva Convention (GC) protection of POW's.

In the WSJ article, Adm. Harris, BMFIC, says, "Prisons are about rehabilitation and punishment." Correct, except this usually happens
after conviction, and not for years before conviction.

U.S. policy lumps terrorists, POW's and detainees into one amorphous lump, ignoring international law. Sec. II, Article 22 of the GC states: POW's shall not be interned in penitentiaries. Common sense implies the same for detainees. Terrorists should be placed in pre-trial security facilities, such as prisons. POW's and detainees are not terrorists, and should not be treated as such.

Harris further states,
"What we are about is keeping enemy combatants off the battlefield...the enemy combatants that we have here were captured on the battlefield and they were engaged in combat operations against Americans... What we're trying to do here in Gitmo is simply keep them off the battlefield."
Sounds a lot like a POW to me.

Also significant are Articles 2-5 of the GC, addressing the legal status of militias and other organized forces. Article 4 allows for the protection of anyone fighting against invading forces.

The common Gonzales argument against according GC protections is that the prisoners of Gitmo do not represent a national army. While this may be true, that is not a requirement for the POW or detainee--or whatever you label them--to be accorded GC status.

In fact, the U.S. commonly utilizes such forces as the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG) in RVN, the Contras and the warlord/druglords in Afghanistan. These are viewed as legitimate uses of thugs and paid conscripts; but the Taliban and such affiliated groups are denied this legitimacy. The administration wants it both ways.

As of 9/29/06, only 10 of the approximately 460 Gitmo detainees, some held for over four years, have been charged with crimes. Incidentally, the killing of U.S. soldiers on the battlefield is within the rules of warfare and is covered by the GC.


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