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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Rights Group Leader Urges Rules for Captives

January 24, 2002|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The United States is shortsighted not to use the Geneva Convention in handling Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the national chief of Amnesty International said Wednesday at Pepperdine University.

William F. Schulz, answering questions from students after addressing an assembly of 1,900 in more general terms, said that if the war on terrorism proves as long as President Bush has forecast, U.S. soldiers are bound to be captured.

Then, he said, Americans will surely want them treated with the rigorous standards that apply in the Geneva Convention for war prisoners, even if it doesn't consider Al Qaeda fighters to be legitimate combatants.

Some human rights groups say prisoners from Afghanistan should be tried in civil courts. U.S. authorities contend they are illegal combatants who, though treated humanely, are entitled to neither civil trial nor status as prisoners of war.

Schulz, a Unitarian minister who has served eight years as the executive director of Amnesty International's American office in New York, received a respectful hearing from the students, even when it was evident some disagreed with him.

He was speaking as part of a weeklong series of events on the Malibu campus devoted to "Peace, Justice and Hope."

A high point of Schulz's appearance here was his defense of Amnesty International's opposition to the death penalty.

Polls show that a majority of the American people support the death penalty, he acknowledged, and some hark back to the "eye-for-an-eye" philosophy of the Old Testament.

But, he contended, this often does not make sense. "What rational person would want a rape for a rape?" he asked. "No one would say there ought to be an official rapist raping the people who commit rape."

Asked how Osama bin Laden should be punished, Schulz said life imprisonment would be fair. Also, he said Bin Laden might fairly be killed in combat before being captured.

Whether a punishment is proportional to the crime, Schulz said, is an important concept that Amnesty International and other human rights organizations use in deciding what laws are unjust.

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