Detainees: warm ocean breezes, but no rum
When dealing with POWs or detainees, our troops are taught to employ five phases: Search (get rid of weapons), Silence (keep them from organizing an escape), Segregate (leaders from followers), Speed (get them away from the battlefield) and Safeguard (humane treatment under the Geneva Convention). The War on Terror detainees in the sunny Caribbean are now in the Safeguard phase. For readers who want to read more on this subject, go to: www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawsofwar/geneva03.htm.
Contained within 143 Articles and five Annexes are definitions and rules covering virtually every imaginable aspect of detainee life. The Detaining Power, in this case the United States of America, assumes a heavy burden with regard to the health and welfare of detainees. This burden has always been willingly accepted by the U.S. for the simple reason that we would like the Convention applied to our service members should they become detainees.
But the U.S. is confronted with two questions up front: (1) Do these detainees meet the definition of persons subject to the Convention and (2) If so, can they safely be repatriated should there be a cessation of hostilities?
The Convention requires detainees to provide their name, rank, serial number and date of birth. But some of these detainees have multiple false names, no rank and no serial number. Indeed, they have no uniforms, belonged to no militarily recognizable units or formations and virtually all of them were not citizens of the country in which they were captured and some of them may not be official citizens of any country on earth.
Yet, the question of whether or not they qualify as persons to be protected under the Convention is moot. Why? Because the U.S. is now and will continue to afford these thugs the protections of the Convention. Not because we are required to do so. But because that’s the way we are – the world’s bleeding hearts who think the United States can do no right notwithstanding.
The War on Terror detainees are being afforded culturally-acceptable food, clean water, clothing, excellent medical care, religious freedom and a secure, lice-free, malaria-free environment. They have been told the direction of Mecca and given Korans and prayer rugs.
Recently back from the hot and steamy Caribbean, this observer can say that living under a roof with no walls is more of a blessing than a curse. But the Convention says the detainees must be housed on a par with the locals. If that means the local Cubans, then the detainees’ cages will require hardly any upgrading. Physically, they are already better off than when they were in Afghanistan.
Detainees below the rank of non-commissioned officer can be required to perform manual labor around the camp. Non-commissioned officers and officers can be required to supervise the work of the lower-ranking detainees, but cannot be required to perform manual labor. The detainees are to receive monthly pay of eight Swiss Francs for privates and up to 75 Swiss Francs for general officers. They may send and receive mail; however, the Detaining Power may censor the mail coming and going.
But who are the privates? Who are the NCOs? Who are the officers? Clearly, the Convention was written to deal with relatively well-organized Powers who are party to the Convention. They were not written for rag-tag thugs who belong to an amorphous international terrorist organization led by a shadowy group of leaders whom we can’t find and may even be dead.
Will they be kept under strong, but non-painful, restraints to keep them from harming their guards and themselves? You bet. Think of it as Club Fed with handcuffs and leg restraints.
The Convention says when hostilities cease that the detainees must be turned loose. But these nuts, religious or not, have sworn unending war against us. Freeing them would be like turning rabid wolverines loose in a day-care center.
Meanwhile, where will they spend all those Swiss Francs?
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and commentator for USA Today, served two tours with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam and Cambodia.
©2002. William Hamilton.