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Camp X-Ray

Camp X-ray is the prison for detainees at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many of these persons have been denied rights usually granted to POWs under the Geneva convention. The US government justifies this by labeling them "illegal combatants", who do not have the technical status of either regular soldiers nor guerrillas, because they are not part of a regular army or militia.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch has criticized the Bush administration over this designation in its 2003 world report, stating: "Washington has ignored human rights standards in its own treatment of terrorist suspects[?]. It has refused to apply the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war from Afghanistan, and has misused the designation of 'enemy combatant' to apply to criminal suspects on U.S. soil." [1] (http://hrw.org/press/2003/01/wr2003.htm)

On April 23, 2003, the U.S. military reported that "a handful" of the Afghan war prisoners held at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been identified as juveniles and were separated from the adult prisoners.

International Conventions

The Hague Convention of 1907[?] established the following rules for recognizing legal belligerents:

The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions:

  • To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
  • To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;
  • To carry arms openly; and
  • To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

In countries where militia or volunteer corps constitute the army, or form part of it, they are included under the denomination "army." (Chapter I, "The Qualifications of Belligerents, Article 1}

The Third Geneva Convention of 1949 clarified the status of irregulars:

Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions: (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

(3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power. . . . (6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war. (Article 4, Paragraph A).

Mercenaries do not have the full protection of the Third Geneva Convention.

The legal question on which the United States and many of her allies differ is the status of al-Qaida members captured in combat. Taliban members could be and were released from U.S. custody, but the U.S. does not recognize al-Qaida members as falling under this convention. According to the Conventions, a competent tribunal must determine whether the Guantanamo detainees have prisoner-of-war status or not. The U.S. has not done so as of date.

However, under international law, it is lawful to hold both unlawful combatants and POWs until the armed conflict has ended. Once the war is declared ended, the U.S. will face an obligation of either charging detainees with crimes or returning them to their countries of origin.

One reason such determinations have not been made has been that under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war are not required to give any more information than name, rank, serial number, and date of birth (which are required for registering POWs with the International Committee of the Red Cross). However, the U.S. holds intelligence gleaned from the detainees at Guantanamo at high value. Without the Geneva Convention legal protections, and without falling under the penumbra of United States criminal law and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, detainees must talk.

Physical conditions for detainees at Camp X-ray meet basic standards for maintaining health, if not comfort. Detainees have rations similar to American forces, with consideration for Muslim dietary considerations. A Muslim chaplain from the U.S. Navy provides religious services. Basic housing has been built. However, detainees are kept in isolation most of the day, are blindfolded when moving into Camp X-ray and from place to place within the camp, and forbidden to talk in groups of more than three. American doctrine in dealing with prisoners of war state that isolation and silence are effective means in breaking down the will to resist interrogation.

Member states of the European Commission and the Organization of American States, as well as non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International have protested the legal status and physical condition of detainees at Guantanamo. In addition, British and American courts have been approached by relatives and friends of detainees to request a legal determination favorable to detainees.

Location, location, location

The location of Camp X-Ray is significant. Because Guantanamo Bay is leased from Cuba and is nominally subject to Cuban sovereignty, United States courts have ruled that persons detained in Guantanamo Bay do not have the access to American courts that a person detained within the United States. These rulings were in reference to Cuban and Haitian refugees found on the high seas and sent to Guantanamo where they attempted unsuccessfully to apply for asylum and administrative hearings to avoid repatriation, but have become applicable to other prisoners in Camp X-Ray.

Persons with American citizenship are currently not detained at Camp X-Ray and have been intentionally kept away from Camp X-Ray because holding American citizens at the site would give United States Court authority to review the detentions of all persons within the site.

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