An American semantic carte blanche

By Chris Morrison

Froot Loops and bagels, that’s what the Americans are feeding the prisoners of war captured in the "War on Terrorism." Only thing is, the Yanks say the Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are not prisoners of war. Apparently, they are "unlawful combatants."

According to Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, PoWs are members of an armed force captured during a conflict, or members of other militias or volunteers corps, provided that such militias fulfil the following conditions:

a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

c) that of carrying arms openly;

d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has stated that since these men do not wear uniforms ("fixed distinctive sign"), the rules of the Geneva Convention do not apply. So who cares? PoW or unlawful combatant, is there really a difference?

In a word, yes.

PoWs are guaranteed certain rights. According to the aforementioned Geneva Convention, they are to be housed in conditions just as favourable as those of the

detaining power’s forces billeted in the same area; they may not be prevented from presenting themselves to the proper medical authorities for examination; and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" are prohibited.
On the first two points, even Nazi Germany treated those prisoners captured on the western front, not to be confused with the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" they had transported to the crematoria in the east, reasonably well. Just watch The Great Escape with Steve McQueen. No one was beaten or housed in six-foot by eight-foot cages like those the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have been herded into.

Regarding the final point of "outrages upon personal dignity," those of you who have seen the pictures from Cuba-and the American government is damn angry you did-may have noticed these men were clean-shaven. Like many of you, I was under the impression the Taliban forbade men shaving off their beards, yet these Taliban fighters were newly shaven. The Americans claim it was done for reasons of hygiene. Bollocks! Uncle Sam wants so badly to get back at those behind September 11 that he’s resorted to these petty actions. Why not just coat the bombs in hog fat?

When a war is over, PoWs are generally released. Some are tried, and the trials are generally in civilian courts. These "unlawful combatants" are not so lucky.

Because America does not see them as PoWs, it will do what it wants with them. They will likely be tried in military tribunals which are essentially kangaroo courts in all but name and are not open to the public. There might be a few token acquittals, but someone will have to pay for the American deaths, and since Osama and his lieutenants will not be found, these men will have to be good enough.
For those of you who want to know, the American government supported the rules of the Geneva Convention in the Balkans and in the Afghan Civil War. They are also dead against the use of military tribunals if and when the defendant is from the United States. When Lori Berenson, an American citizen and convicted terrorist, was tried and convicted by a military tribunal in Peru, the American government vehemently protested the verdicts validity.

As the first stage of "War on Terrorism" nears its end, it seems the American government is trying harder than ever to lose the moral high ground it has held since September 11. The pictures of the clean-shaven Taliban soldiers were broadcast around the world. The effect this will have on Dubya’s fragile agreement with the Muslim world to turn a blind eye to the bombing in Afghanistan might be negative, which will hurt Dubya’s attempt to extend his crusade to Iraq, Iran or anywhere else.

So maybe it does not matter if the 110 Taliban fighters detained in Cuba are PoWs or "unlawful combatants," because the petty attempt of the American government to humiliate them by shaving off their beards may have saved thousands of innocent lives in other countries rife with anti-American sentiment.

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