Bush: Geneva treaty applies to Taliban detainees
But captives won't be classified, given the rights of POWs
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House announced Thursday that Taliban fighters among the Afghan war detainees would be afforded the full protection of the Geneva Conventions but would not be classified as prisoners of war.
The president applied the Geneva Conventions to Taliban fighters because Afghanistan was a party to the 1949 treaty, though the United States never recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.
With Thursday's announcement, the Bush administration recognizes the Taliban troops as members of a "state" army.
Under the new presidential directive, al Qaeda fighters and other suspected terrorists will not be designated as fighters covered by the Geneva Conventions.
"They will continue to be treated well," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "There is no change in the protections they have been provided."
Al Qaeda fighters have not been categorized as "unlawful combatants" under the Geneva Conventions, meaning the treaty, and the rights guaranteed in it, will not apply to them. The fighters do not qualify because they do not represent any country that is party to the treaty, Fleischer said.
Legal experts and human-rights advocates said Bush's decision to continue classifying Taliban detainees as "unlawful combatants" instead of POWs allows the White House to use secret military commissions to try the individuals.
Fleischer said the Taliban fighters do not qualify as prisoners of war because they did not meet certain standards of Article IV of the conventions -- that they wear distinctive uniforms and conduct military operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
Detainees' status criticized
Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war must be tried through a military court-martial, which guarantees them certain rights regarding rules of evidence and rules of questioning. They cannot be tried in military tribunals.
Prisoners of war also must be "repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities," according to the treaty. They are also entitled to monthly stipends from the government holding them as well as musical instruments and other recreational and religious rights.
Amnesty International, a leading international humanitarian group, criticized the White House's announcement as denying the detainees' basic rights and a fair hearing.
"The Geneva Conventions apply to every one of the prisoners held at Guantanamo and those detained in Afghanistan," said Vienna Colucci of Amnesty International USA.
"The conventions require that when there is a dispute over a prisoner's status, a 'competent tribunal' must make the final determination on a case-by-case basis. The president cannot fulfill that role."
A senior administration official, intimately involved in the president's decision, said the detainees will not have a right to appeal their classification.
Twenty-eight more detainees arrived Thursday at Camp X-Ray, the temporary detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, bringing the number of Afghan war captives at the site to 186.
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