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[casi] Amnesty: - International Standards For All - The US and The Geneva Convention

AI-index: AMR 51/045/2003     25/03/2003
25 March 2003
AI Index: AMR 51/045/2003\USA
International standards for all

"There are international standards that civilized regimes adhere to and then there are regimes like 
Saddam Hussein['s] ...". US Secretary of Defence, 23 March 2003(1)

On 23 March 2003, following the news that US soldiers had been captured by Iraqi forces during the 
US-led attack on Iraq, President George Bush said that "we expect them to be treated humanely, just 
like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely... If not, the people who 
mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."(2)

Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld added that "the Geneva Convention indicates that it's not 
permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war, and if they do happen to be 
American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how 
they should be treated."(3) His statement came after interviews with five captured US soldiers had 
been broadcast on Iraqi television.(4)

On the same day, about 30 more detainees were flown from Afghanistan to the US Naval Base in 
Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. This brought to about 660 the number of foreign nationals held in the 
base.(5) They come from more than 40 countries. Most were taken into custody during the 
international armed conflict in Afghanistan. Some have been held in Guantánamo, without charge or 
trial, and without access to lawyers, relatives or the courts, for more than a year. Their 
treatment has flouted international standards.

>From the outset, the US Government refused to grant any of the Guantánamo detainees prisoner of 
>war (POW) status or to have any disputed status determined by a "competent tribunal" as required 
>under Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention. In April 2002, Amnesty International warned the US 
>administration that its selective approach to the Geneva Conventions threatened to undermine the 
>effectiveness of international humanitarian law protections for any US or other combatants 
>captured in the future.(6) The organization received no reply to this or other concerns it raised 
>about the detainees.

On the 9 February 2002, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the most authoritative 
body on the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, revealed that there were "divergent views between 
the United States and the ICRC on the procedures which apply on how to determine that the persons 
detained are not entitled to prisoner of war status".(7) The ICRC news release said that the 
organization would pursue its dialogue with the US Government on this issue. Nevertheless, to this 
day none of the Guantánamo detainees have been granted POW status or appeared before a tribunal 
competent to determine their status.

The US has ignored not only the ICRC on this issue, but also the United Nations High Commissioner 
for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. More recently, on 16 December 
2002, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that "the authority which is competent to 
determine prisoner-of-war status is not the executive power, but the judicial power", as specified 
under article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention.

When the first of the detainees arrived in Guantánamo in January 2002, the Pentagon released a 
photograph of the detainees in orange jumpsuits, kneeling before US soldiers, shackled, handcuffed, 
and wearing blacked-out goggles over their eyes and masks over their mouths and noses. The 
photograph shocked world opinion and led Secretary Rumsfeld to acknowledge that it was "probably 
unfortunate" that the picture had been released, at least without better captioning. He added: "My 
recollection is that there's something in the Geneva Conventions about press people being around 
prisoners; that - and not taking pictures and not saying who they are and not exposing them to 

The USA's selective approach to the Geneva Conventions has been widely noted. For example, with US 
soldiers captured in Iraq and shown on Iraqi television to the anger of US officials, a Saudi 
Arabian newspaper, claiming to be receiving one million visitors a day on its website, wrote: 
"Rumsfeld's newfound affection for the Geneva Convention is remarkable... The US does not believe 
that the prisoners now being held at Guantánamo Bay are prisoners of war under the Geneva 
Convention. Pictures of the men there, shackled and living in cages, were distributed by the Bush 
administration to the world's media."(9)

Meanwhile the US continues to hold the Guantánamo detainees in very harsh conditions, most of them 
confined alone to tiny cells for 24 hours a day and reportedly allowed to "exercise" in shackles 
for only 30 minutes a week - conditions which Amnesty International believes in their totality 
amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international standards. The 
detainees remain in their legal black hole, unable to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, 
and with no indication as to how long they might be so held. There have been numerous suicide 
attempts. Family members are subject to the emotional distress of not knowing how their loved ones 
are being treated, why exactly they are being held, or when or if they will see them again.

Serious allegations of human rights violations do not stop with the Guantánamo detainees. US 
soldiers are reported to have mistreated people detained during the military conflict in 
Afghanistan. Villagers taken into custody in 2002 alleged that they were tied up, blindfolded, 
hooded, kicked, punched, and subject to other ill-treatment. As far as Amnesty International is 
aware, no appropriate investigation has been carried out into the allegations by the US 

In a letter to President Bush on 10 March 2003, Amnesty International called for a full, impartial 
inquiry into allegations of torture and ill-treatment by US personnel against alleged al-Qa'ida and 
Taleban detainees held in the US Air Base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Autopsies revealed that two 
prisoners who died in the Bagram detention facility in December 2002 had sustained "blunt force 
injuries". It has also been alleged that detainees have been subjected to "stress and duress" 
techniques, including hooding, prolonged standing in uncomfortable positions, sleep deprivation and 
24 hour illumination. The ICRC has reportedly not been granted access to the section of the Bagram 
facility where this treatment has allegedly taken place.

The repeated assertions by members of the current US administration that they remain committed to 
international human rights standards rings hollow as US officials flout those very same standards. 
This may not be a new phenomenon - Amnesty International has for many years been concerned with the 
USA's pick and choose approach to international standards. But, as the Assistant Secretary of State 
for Human Rights said in March 2002, "the protection of human rights is even more important now 
than ever" and gave assurances that "the US Government is deeply committed to the promotion of 
universal human rights".(11) His government's failure to live up to those words since the attacks 
of 11 September 2001 has caused great damage to the international image of the USA.

In a recent letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell resigning from the Foreign Service of the 
United States, US diplomat John Brady Kiesling wrote: "We are straining beyond its limits an 
international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, 
and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained 
America's ability to defend its interests."(12)

The US Government must ensure that all those in its custody are afforded their full rights under 
international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.


(1) Secretary Rumsfeld Stakeout following CNN Interview, 23 March 2003.
(2) President Bush Discusses Military Operation. White House. 23 March 2003.
(3) Secretary Rumsfeld Interview-Bob Schieffer and David Martin, CBS Face The Nation, 23 March 2003.
(4) Iraq: Amnesty International calls for respect of all prisoners of war (AI Index: MDE 
41/037/2003, 24 March 2003.
(5) Eighteen or 19 Afghan nationals were released from the Guantánamo facility on 21 March 2003 and 
sent back to Afghanistan.
(6) Memorandum to the US Government on the rights of people in US custody in Afghanistan and 
Guantánamo Bay (AI Index: AMR 51/053/2002, April 2002).
(7) Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, ICRC news release, 9 February 2002.
(8) Department of Defence News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Pace, 22 January 2002. 
Article 13 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, states: 
"Prisoners of war must at all times be treated humanely. Likewise prisoners of war must at all 
times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and 
public curiosity".
(9) Editorial, Arab News, 24 March 2003,
(10) Memorandum to the US Government on the rights of people in US custody in Afghanistan and 
Guantánamo Bay (AI Index: AMR 51/053/2002, April 2002), pages 17-21.
(11) Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 
Release of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001. US State Department, Washington, 
DC, 4 March 2002.
(12) US diplomat's letter of resignation. New York Times, 27 February 2003.

© Amnesty International

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