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Justice Dept. : Geneva Conventions limited in Iraq

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Non-Iraqi prisoners captured by U.S. forces on the Iraq battlefield are not entitled to the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions, according to a recent legal opinion from the Justice Department.

The opinion allows U.S. military forces and CIA operatives to handle the foreign fighters captured in Iraq in the same way they are handling al Qaeda and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In confirming the legal opinion first reported in The New York Times, Justice Department officials said the guidance is consistent with their previous position taken regarding battlefield detainees in Afghanistan.

"This administration has made it clear from the outset that members of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups do not necessarily enjoy the protections of the Geneva Conventions," a senior Justice Department official said. "Al Qaeda members and other foreign terrorists in Iraq illegally would not be entitled to the Geneva Convention protections. That's consistent with our opinion on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan."

A senior State Department official said the basic rationale for the opinion is that non-Iraqis who were picked up in Iraq "are stateless enemy combatants and don't belong to a recognized sovereign power," and are not fighting as part of a recognized state military.

The Justice Department has said members of national military forces, including soldiers from Saddam's former regime, are entitled to Geneva protections.

Disclosure of the new opinion, which had been requested by the CIA and the military, explains why U.S. officials were authorized to secretly transfer a small number of non-Iraqi prisoners out of Iraq for detention and interrogation. A provision of the Geneva Conventions prohibits removing civilians from occupied territories.

U.S. officials have acknowledged some prisoners were moved out of Iraq but refused to say where they were taken.

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