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29 January 2002
After visiting the American naval base of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where some 158 captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters are being held in cages exposed to the elements, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asserted once again that they would be treated as unlawful combatants, not prisoners of war (POWs).
This is the height of arrogance and defiance in the face of the intensifying worldwide demand for their treatment in conformity with the universally accepted norms and canons of civilised behaviour.
None is pleading clemency or mercy for them.
All that everyone wants is that they should be treated like human beings, not like animals as they presently are.This worldwide demand carries weight.
The 9/11 episode was outrageous precisely because the act was so inhuman, horrible and callous.
By the same token, the treatment meted out to the captured fighters has to be unacceptable if it is uncivilised, gruesome and brutish.
Of course, they should be brought to justice.
They must pay the price for their crimes.
But tormenting them in captivity militates against the very spirit and principles of justice.
Particularly, it doesn't behove a nation that makes so much of its professions to everything civilised.
The American perfidy in the case becomes all the more glaring from the way it has sought to deal with the American Taliban, John Walker.
He has been repatriated to the United States to be treated as any other prisoner in its jails to face the country's normal laws in its normal courts.
In contrast, the Bush administration is not ready to grant even the minimal treatment founded on civilised norms to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda captives belonging to other nationalities.
What the Bush administration needs to understand is that its intransigence on this issue is not only exacerbating anti-American sentiment worldwide but is also hurting the cause of the international anti-terrorism drive irreversibly.
Already, with its stark support to patently aggressive Israeli actions against the Palestinians in the Middle East, it has stirred up heightened anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world where the masses have also begun reading, rightly or wrongly, ulterior anti-Muslim motives in the global campaign it is leading against terrorism.
If it persists in its obduracy to deal with the captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters like animals, they would renounce the anti-terrorism campaign and their governments would find it difficult to bear the public heat on this count.
Even many of its Western allies would be hard put in justifying US intransigence to their peoples.
The Bush administration would do well not to jeopardise this vitally needed drive with its stubbornness.
It must listen to the sane voices coming from the world's different nooks and corners.
Even within its own ranks, rifts have emerged over the issue.
Colin Powell, secretary of state, for one, has called on President Bush to review the policy on dealing with these prisoners.
His voice should count for all; he is the one sane counsel among the hawks now dominating the Bush administration.
True, the United States is today the sole superpower, capable of foisting its will on others.
But it shouldn't get blinded by that prowess.
Greatness becomes pleasant and acceptable if mixed with humility, justice and fair play.
If allowed to peter out into hubris and revenge, it becomes odious and unwelcome.
The worldwide demand to consider these prisoners as POWs under the Geneva Conventions is getting tremendous momentum.
The Bush administration must concede it, regardless of whether they were wearing a uniform or not.
The Frontier Post (Pakistan)