Taliban soldiers fit within POW guidelines

On Thursday, President George W. Bush responded to harsh international criticism for U.S. treatment of Taliban and al-Qaida detainees by acknowledging the applicability of the Geneva Convention – at least in part. The president now recognizes the Taliban are covered under the Geneva Convention, but he fails to recognize them as prisoners of war.

The Geneva Convention provides basic human rights for combatants captured during a conflict. Currently, the United States has imprisoned 220 Taliban soldiers and al-Qaida terrorists at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Until Thursday, President Bush had refused to provide any detainees protection under the Geneva Convention, despite urgings from Secretary of State Colin Powell. International criticism – especially from the European media – lambasted the president. Undoubtedly wanting to silence critics, the Bush administration applied the Geneva Convention to the Taliban, but not to al-Qaida. Although a progressive move, it didn’t go far enough, nor was it done in a timely fashion.

Initially, Bush refused to provide the Taliban protection under the Geneva Convention because he said the United States never recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s governing party. This allowed the United States to subject the Taliban to methods of persuasion, attempting to elicit information, acts forbidden under the Geneva Convention. Rules set forth at the convention – which can be found at www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/y3gctpw.htm – say, “The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.” Afghanistan signed the Geneva Accords and is therefore a high contracting party. Its territory was at least partially occupied by the United States, and therefore the convention applies.

Also, some argue that because the United States never declared war, the convention doesn’t apply. But the convention says it applies “even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.” These two excerpts show the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to the Taliban soldiers.

Now, months after their capture, the Bush administration has applied the Geneva convention’s rules without granting the Taliban soldiers the status of prisoners of war, which is equally outrageous to not applying convention rules in the first place. The convention provides a list of qualifying categories and a detainee need fit into only one to be considered a POW. The Taliban soldiers fit several, the most compelling category being, “Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.”

While the al-Qaida members are terrorists and have no rights under the Geneva Convention, there is little room for doubt that the Taliban soldiers are, and should be considered by the Bush administration, POWs.