Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Undesignating Enemy Combatants

The Los Angeles Times reported today that 141 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay were to be freed, with most being returned to their countries of origin.

Two sentences in the story, when inverted, provide a capsule study of what is wrong with this whole process.

Battlefield commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan had determined when the men were arrested that they were a threat to U.S. forces in the region, he [Lt. Cmdr Chito Peppler] said.

“The detainees determined by last year’s Administrative Review Boards to pose no threat to U.S. national security are ‘no longer enemy combatants,’ explained Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler of the Pentagon office in charge of reviewing detainee status.”

First, when did the U.S. military invade Pakistan and who is the U.S. “battlefield commander” in that country? Does President Mussaref know about this?

Second, battlefield commanders don’t arrest people; they take prisoners of war who surrender on the battlefield or who are so severely injured they cannot escape advancing U.S. forces. They are treated for battle wounds as prescribed by the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions.

Third, if the U.S. is going to arrest everyone in these two countries who deeply dislikes the U.S. and in anyway “conspires” to advance a “threat” to U.S. forces in the region – a very ill-defined criterion – there would not be enough Guantanamo’s to even begin to hold them all.

Fourth, “unlawful combatant” is a Bush-devised category created to circumvent prisoner of war and civilian detainee rights as prescribed by the Hague and Geneva agreements, including the additional protocols to the Geneva documents.

Fifth, just as the designation of a person as an “enemy combatant” comes like a voice from heaven or from a deus ex machina, so too is the undesignation of a person as an “enemy combatant.”

The Guantanamo tally, according to the paper, stands as follows:

740 known to have been incarcerated (but with more “off the books”;
250 already released or returned to their homelands;
141 more to be released or returned;
10 charged, but no capital cases;
25 additional cases under development;
0 trials.

That totals 426 of the 740, leaving 314 in limbo – which to them must be more like hell.

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