WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is reserving the right to try al-Qaida and Taliban captives on its own terms and isn't calling them "prisoners of war," although the Red Cross says it is getting full access to them for now.
Human rights watchdogs are worried that U.S. insistence on describing the captives held by its forces and allies as "detainees" is a precursor to military tribunals and lowered standards of due process.
"It may violate internationally recognized standards for a fair trial," Amnesty International spokeswoman Vienna Colucci said Wednesday of the tribunals, created by President Bush on Nov. 13.
POW status would guarantee any captive facing trial a court-martial, forcing prosecutors to meet tough standards of due process.
The Red Cross has no problem with U.S. terminology, a spokeswoman said, because the allies have agreed to allow the humanitarian organization the access that the Geneva Conventions grant POWs.
"We have visited over 2,400 detainees throughout Afghanistan in over 30 places of detention," Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari said Wednesday, a day after the first such visit to a Marines-held base near Kandahar where 16 Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are being held. "We have no complaints about access."
Besides regular access to all captives, that means: full, unfettered access to detention facilities; private time between the captive, the delegate and an interpreter of the Red Cross' choosing; releasing the full identity of all prisoners and allowing the Red Cross to send messages to the captive's family.
John Walker Lindh met with Red Cross delegates when he was held near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Notari, speaking from Geneva, said the Red Cross plans to revisit him aboard the USS Peleliu, off the coast of Pakistan, where he is being held with seven other detainees.
Notari refused comment on the treatment of the captives, which is standard Red Cross policy. The humanitarian group makes abuse complaints public only after all other avenues have failed.
Still, the Red Cross has confirmed that it is investigating claims that 43 Taliban captives died of suffocation on their way to Shibergan, an Afghan-controlled prison in northern Afghanistan.
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