28 Feb 2002
Ill-treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban suspects may

The IRCT is gravely concerned about the treatment of the Taliban and al-Qaida suspects currently being detained at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay US naval base.

The failure of the US to determine the status of the prisoners, or to proceed with any charges, places them in a legal vacuum in which their international human rights protection cannot be guaranteed. In seeking justice, the US must be seen to be just, and this requires that due respect is given to the rule of law. 

The apparent ill-treatment of prisoners, who are held in small wire cages in a 30ºC heat, as well as reports of prisoners in transit being handcuffed, chained, blindfolded, and masked is unacceptable. In some cases, prisoners have allegedly been sedated and some subjected to degrading treatment. The reports of sensory deprivation, an effective and commonly used form of torture, is particularly alarming, and a classic method to break down individuals.

The IRCT calls upon the US Government to declare the prisoners as prisoners of war and to adhere to international commitments accordingly. To deny these rights under the Geneva Conventions on the Treatment of Prisoners of War arguably equates to a war crime. In considering article 4 of the Geneva Convention, it can be argued that the conflict in Afghanistan was a state of war. Alternatively, article 5 requires the US to apply the convention until the status of the prisoners is determined by a competent tribunal. Further, article 13 provides that the prisoners must ‘at all times be humanely treated‘ and ‘at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.'

A prisoner not enjoying the legal status of a prisoner of war must still be guaranteed humane treatment according to international human rights law. Torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners is absolutely prohibited under numerous international conventions, including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The prisoner should also have access to a fair trial, where the legal basis of detention may be challenged, and the right to legal council be addressed.

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