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Bush Grants Taliban Detainees Geneva Convention Protection

By Mike Allen and John Mintz

Following protests from allies around the world, President Bush announced Thursday that the United States will grant the protections of the Geneva Convention to detainees who fought for Afghanistan’s Taliban but will continue to deny them to members of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Until now, the administration had denied that the 158 captives at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were covered by the Geneva Conventions, which ensure treatment of wartime captives is humane and subject to international law.

International lawyers said it could be argued that Bush’s decision will curtail some tactics being used in interrogating Taliban fighters at the detention center, nicknamed Camp X-Ray. The lawyers said the decision strengthens the argument that the Taliban captives should be repatriated when hostilities cease.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, announcing the decision at a hastily scheduled afternoon briefing, said the decision about the detainees “will not change their material life on a day-to-day basis.” The United States said it already was providing food and medical treatment and allowing the captives to practice their religion, which are other issues covered by the convention.

Fleischer said the administration is making the distinction in status of defenders of the Taliban regime, which controlled Afghanistan, and al-Qaida because Afghanistan is a party to the Geneva Convention.

“Although the United States does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate Afghani government, the president determined that the Taliban members are covered under the treaty because Afghanistan is a party to the convention,” Fleischer said. “Al-Qaida is an international terrorist group and cannot be considered a state party to the Geneva Convention.”