Documenting, a Problem?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 28 2002 5:04 AM

Documenting, a Problem?

The New York Timesleads with word that the United States has fallen behind on its promise to better track foreign students in the country. A new computer network that's supposed to do the job won't be up and running for another year. The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with Vice President Cheney's statement that the White House won't release records detailing which companies the administration consulted with as it was devising its energy policy. A congressional investigative arm has been demanding the records for months and has said that if the White House doesn't give 'em up, it'll sue, perhaps as early as this week. The paper concludes that the stage has now been set for "the highest profile court fight between Congress and an administration since Watergate." USA Todayleads with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's assertion that the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay should not be given prisoner of war status. "They are among the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth," Rumsfeld said. "They are not POW's." The Wall Street Journal(whose website has a pleasantly tweaked design) tops its worldwide newsbox with a similar story but different emphasis. It notes Rumsfeld's position, but focuses on the fact that the National Security Council will meet tomorrow to finalize the government's position on the prisoners.

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The parameters of the prisoner debate aren't entirely clear. The White House says the question isn't whether the prisoners will be classified as POWs—they won't, the administration insists. Instead, the issue is whether the United States will say that the Geneva Convention—which has a stipulation for unlawful combatants—applies at all. According to the convention, if there's doubt about the status of a combatant, a tribunal must be convened to decide whether he merits POW status. 

The NYT reports Secretary of State "Powell agrees that the captives should not be given prisoner of war status." The paper's own Bill Safire says that's just spin—or has he puts it, "That's foo-foo dust; Powell thinks each case should be decided on its merits by military judges."

As Today's Papers understands it, therein lies a key issue that the papers don't latch onto: Regardless of the White House's contention that POW status is not on the table, if the Geneva Convention is followed, as is currently being considered, then military tribunals will be convened for each prisoner to decide whether they're a POW or not. In other words, POW status, at least for individuals, is on the table.

The papers say that a key issue is that if the United States agrees to abide by the Geneva Convention, it would mean curtailing interrogations. Under the convention, and just like in the movies, POWs only need to give their name, rank, and serial number.

"These are bad people," said Cheney. "I mean, they've already been screened before they get to Guantanamo. They may well have information about future terrorist attacks against the United States. We need that information."

Today's Papers wonders what the Geneva Convention's rules for interrogation are for people classified under the convention as "unlawful combatants." Are they looser than those for POWs?

The Post raises a good point. Citing officials, it says, "Powell and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have privately expressed fears that U.S. Special Forces or spies who are captured in battle while dressed in civilian garb could be mistreated if the United States refuses formally to extend Geneva Conventions standing to the captives in Cuba."

The LAT catches late-breaking news that U.S. Special Ops soldiers have stormed a Kandahar hospital where six wounded and heavily armed al-Qaida troops have been holed up for about two months. The results of the battle aren't clear yet.

The Vice Prez, speaking on a Sunday TV news show, argued that handing over the White House's energy policy files would mean defiling the presidency. "What's really at stake here is the ability of the president and the vice president to solicit advice from anybody they want in confidence," he explained.

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