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Debate Over Classifying Prisoners Intensifies - 2002-01-27


The Bush administration is locked in a heated debate over how to classify al-Qaida and Taleban prisoners captured in Afghanistan.

Speaking on Fox television, Vice President Dick Cheney said Secretary of State Colin Powell has asked President Bush to re-classify detainees at Guantanamo Naval base as prisoners of war rather than as unlawful combatants. Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war are not required to divulge information about future military operations to their captors.

Mr. Powell wants the change to ensure any captured U-S military personnel are also treated as prisoners of war.

However, at Guantanamo base today (Sunday), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the 158 Taleban and al-Qaida fighters held there are, in his words, the most dangerous, best-trained and vicious killers on the face of the earth.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the detainees are still considered unlawful combatants -- a classification that allows U-S interrogators to question them extensively about details of future terrorist operations. He said he does not expect that classification to change.

The National Security Council is set to address the issue Monday.

Some U-S allies and human rights groups have criticized both the treatment and status of the captives.

The criticism was sparked by photographs showing them shackled, kneeling, and wearing ear-muffs and blacked-out goggles. U-S officials insist the prisoner treatment meets all international requirements.

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