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Bush grants some rights to Guantanamo POWs
The Mercury News / New York Daily News
By Richard Sisk
July 12, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration granted minimum Geneva Conventions rights Wednesday to about 1,000 suspected terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo and other U.S.-run prisons, effectively outlawing torture.

Bowing to last month's Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo, the Pentagon released a memo to all commands ordering compliance with Geneva's Common Article 3 requiring the humane treatment of prisoners.

President Bush had argued that captives in the war on terror did not merit Geneva Conventions' protection.

But the memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said Article 3 applied "as a matter of law to the conflict with al Qaeda." He also said the special military commissions Bush had authorized to try terror suspects were "not consistent with Article 3."

Defense and Justice Department lawyers stressed that the prisoners in military custody were not being granted prisoner-or-war status. Such status would entitle them to trials under rules similar to military courts martial with rules on evidence and access to counsel.

The lawyers also said the new rules did not apply to the few dozen high-profile prisoners, such as alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who are being held by the CIA at secret locations.

"They're still in limbo," law of war expert Eugene Fidell said of the CIA prisoners.

The Supreme Court ruling and the Pentagon's response triggered the first round of what was expected to be a lengthy battle between Congress and the Bush administration on how the prisoners should be tried.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Defense Department counsel Danel Dell'Orto said Congress should approve Bush's existing rules for military commissions, which do not give prisoners the right to be present at trial or to challenge evidence.

But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Committee's chairman, said, "We're not going to . . . give the Department of Defense a blank check."

Assistant Attorney General Steve Bradbury said the military currently had about 450 prisoners at Guantanamo and about another 550 worldwide, mostly in Afghanistan.

Original Text