Dawn (Pakistan), January 15, 2002
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may well have betrayed the flip side of the American approach to the whole issue of dealing with alleged Al Qaeda prisoners when he said that these people had no rights under the Geneva Convention since they were not prisoners of war but "unlawful combatants". Washington has been saying all along that it is fighting a war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Hence, all prisoners detained as a consequence of its actions in that country should qualify as prisoners of war and hence must be accorded the rights bestowed on them by the Convention. Mr Rumsfeld does not seem to agree with this view. In his imperious way of thinking, those captured in Afghanistan are already guilty, that they are lesser human beings, perhaps even animals, and consequently are not fit to be treated according to the laws, conventions and norms that are applicable in such cases.
After all, what else can one gauge from the way 50 of them were treated when flown in a military transport plane from Kandahar to a US base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Bound with iron chains, some were sedated, with no one allowed to answer the call of nature during the flight - bed-pans were placed instead. Even if it is assumed that some of these men had knowledge of the September 11 attacks, or even played a role in them, does that mean that their right to be treated as humans should be taken away?
In any case, these prisoners are likely to be tried before military courts which have the authority to pass a death sentence, a decision against which the accused have no right of appeal. One wonders if Irish or Basque terrorists would ever be treated this way. In fact, the due process of law was not withheld even from Nazi war criminals or villains like Slobodan Milosevic whose trial is currently underway at The Hague before an international civilian court. Perhaps, the Al Qaeda accused have their faith and skin colour working against them.