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Geneva Convention Applies to Taliban, not Al Qaeda

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2002 – President Bush said the United States would regard the Geneva Conventions as applying to Taliban detainees under U.S. control -- but not Al Qaeda detainees.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today the United States would continue to treat all detainees humanely and in accordance with standards set by the Geneva Conventions.

Bush's decision does not materially change the way all detainees will be treated by the United States nor does it confer prisoner of war status on Taliban members. U.S. officials will continue to call both Taliban and Al Qaeda members "detainees."

Afghanistan signed the Geneva Convention of 1949. U.S. government lawyers determined the convention applies to Taliban captured since the war on terrorism began.

"The reality is the set of facts that exist today with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not necessarily the set of facts that were considered when the Geneva Convention was fashioned," Rumsfeld said in the Pentagon in an informal talk during the signing of a U.S.-Canada agreement on the Joint Strike Fighter.

Rumsfeld said the president decided the Al Qaeda would not fit under the Geneva Convention, because the Geneva Convention is an instrument among states in conflict. "The Al Qaeda is not a state; it is a terrorist organization," he said.

Bush decided that the Taliban would fit in the framework of the convention even though neither the United Nations nor virtually any country in the world recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.

Rumsfeld said U.S. lawyers took their time in making their assessment because, "while it makes no difference in how these individuals will be treated, it could be considered a precedent for the future."

The decision means there is no need for tribunals under the Geneva Convention to judge the status of the Taliban or Al Qaeda detainees. The convention is written in a way that, in areas where there is doubt about the status of detainees, a tribunal sets their status. The tribunal is really a screening process, Rumsfeld said. However, a screening process has been in place since the detainees were captured. The process includes the defense establishment, the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency, he said.

The Geneva Convention tribunal process should not be confused with the proposed military commissions the United States may use to try some detainees for crimes.

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