Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2001 / 18 Shevat 5762

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Prisoners of a War of Words -- IF words were water, you could drown in the verbiage that professional radio and TV grouches have been fulminating about "Camp X-Ray."

That's the Pentagon's snazzy code name for America's detention camp for Afghan war detainees in sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The camp has raised several false issues and one very real one.

The first false issue is how well the inmates of this camp are being treated. Human rights inspectors found the "torture" charge to be bogus, kicked up mostly by photos in a British tabloid of prisoners sitting on the ground in shackles under the blaring headline, "TORTURE!" The story, as we in the news business say, did not back up the headline.

In fact, with the exception of such tragedies as the My Lai massacre, we Yanks are known for the fine, four-star care we give to our war detainees.

During World War II, for example, when German prisoners of war were assigned to fill wartime labor vacancies here in the United States, many found themselves not only better off than their fellow Nazis back in Europe, but also treated better than many Americans. Black GI's in the segregated South, for example, often found themselves riding in the back of the bus while German POWs rode up front with other white people.

Today, the Bush administration is right to say our Afghan war captives are better off in our sunny Caribbean detention facility than they were in the frigid caves of Afghanistan, although that's not saying much. In Afghanistan's rugged mountains, a shower is a luxury.

The other false issue that has some of our allies' shorts in a knot is whether our 158 detainees are "prisoners of war" or only what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called "unlawful combatants," entitling them to far fewer rights.

By calling the 158 Camp X-Ray captives "unlawful combatants" instead of POWs, U.S. officials don't have to follow the Geneva Convention on captives' rights. Under those international rules of war, prisoners can refuse to answer most questions during interrogation. They also must be repatriated when hostilities end, even though in today's war on terrorism, it's hard to say when hostilities have ceased, since your enemy has devoted his life to killing you in an endless "holy war." As "unlawful combatants," such holy warriors can be held indefinitely.

But, the question that Secretary of State Colin Powell has prudently raised is not whether the captives should be re-classified as POWs. He agrees with President Bush that they probably should not. Powell only questions how the United States should decide what the captives are.

When there is doubt about prisoners' status, the Geneva Convention says, "such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

It defines 'prisoner of war' as, "In general, any member of the armed forces of a party to a conflict is a combatant and any member captured by the enemy party is a prisoner of war." POW status and treatment may also extended to other categories of people who do not meet that definition of combatant.

That sounds like subscribers to the convention must presume captives to be "prisoners of war" unless proved otherwise before a "competent tribunal." The military has procedures for hastily setting up a "competent tribunal." But this notion apparently did not cross Bush's mind when he decided without any public announcement on Jan. 18 that the Geneva Convention would not apply to the Guantanamo Bay captives.

On Monday, Bush changed his mind partly. He told reporters he was reconsidering his Jan. 18 decision. Maybe he will allow tribunals, but Bush said he had no intention of granting the captives POW status. In other words, he does not want hearings to change the conclusions we already have reached.

Bush has more than purely humanitarian reasons to follow the "spirit of the convention," as his spokesmen call it. Following the convention's dictates will encourage current and future enemies to observe them if and when they have American combatants in their custody. As complicated as the legalities may be, they boil down to the good old Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.

Maybe it is time to write a new set of rules. We have entered a new age of war that the Geneva Convention, which does not even mention the word "terrorist," doesn't seem to have anticipated.

The Convention requires "armed forces," for example, to "distinguish themselves from civilians with a uniform or other distinctive sign recognizable at a distance." The Taliban and Al Quida fighters do not wear uniforms or insignia, but, quite often, neither do our own special operations soldiers or our allies in the Northern Alliance.

While the Bush administration tries to sort things out, our detainees might as well sit back, relax and soak up some Caribbean sun. One aspect of their status is clear: They're prisoners of a war of words that's not likely to end soon.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

© 2001 TMS