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Bush says no POW status for detainees

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a discussion with his top national security advisers, President Bush said Monday the detainees being held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba "will not be treated as prisoners of war."

But he acknowledged he was still considering the "legal ramifications" of whether the Geneva Conventions apply to them.

The president suggested the debate over their classification is moot, insisting the 158 detainees at Camp X-Ray -- whom he called "killers" -- are being treated humanely.

The question of whether the 1949 Geneva Conventions apply could be important, because the conventions give the detainees the right to appeal their classification.

Furthermore, some experts said, how the United States treats the detainees could affect the treatment of U.S. soldiers captured in future conflicts.

The president's comments followed weekend newspaper reports that Secretary of State Colin Powell was advocating that the detainees -- fighters for al Qaeda or the Taliban -- be reclassified as prisoners of war.

Photo gallery: Images from Camp X-Ray


The administration considers them "unlawful combatants," a classification that allows them to be interrogated.

Some human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have objected to the administration's stance, saying the detainees would be afforded more rights as prisoners of war and would have better living conditions.

The White House insisted Monday the "issue is resolved" as it relates to the POW question. But it acknowledged a continuing debate over whether the Geneva Conventions would apply to "unlawful combatants."

"However I make my decision, these detainees will be well treated," Bush said. "We are not going to call them prisoners of war in either case, and the reason why is al Qaeda is not a known military. These are killers, these are terrorists."

Victoria Clarke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the administration was right to question whether the Geneva Conventions applied in the war against terrorism.

"We are in very unconventional times. We're in a very unconventional war," she said. "So every aspect of it, including the Geneva Convention and how it might be applied, should be looked at with new eyes and new thoughts as to what we're experiencing right now."

Over the weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney said there are competing schools of thoughts on whether the Geneva Conventions "apply to terrorist attacks."

A senior administration official disputed the newspaper stories about Powell's stance and told CNN Saturday the State Department had recommended only that Bush consider applying the protections of the Geneva Conventions to the detainees.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the issue came up Monday morning during a meeting of the president's National Security Council, but he declined to describe the deliberations -- or Powell's views -- saying they were private.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured Camp X-Ray with four U.S. senators Sunday. Following the visit, both Democratic and Republican members of the delegation defended the administration.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, described the camp as "very clean" and said the prisoners were getting the same medical care as members of the U.S. military. She said they were also being allowed to observe their Muslim faith.

"I think by any standards these people are being treated very humanely," she said.

Over the weekend, military officials said some of the detainees had assumed leadership roles and appeared to be scrutinizing security at Camp X-Ray.


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