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Group urges release of detainees

©Associated Press

March 8, 2003

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Human Rights Watch has urged the United States to release any Taliban soldiers and other prisoners who have no significant connections to the al-Qaida terror network, the group said Friday.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sent Thursday and released to the media Friday, the group said there was no legal basis to continue holding those prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On Thursday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, met with President Bush. Vieira de Mello previously urged U.S. authorities to either put prisoners on trial or hand them over to authorities in their home countries.

Also, the commander of the detention mission has recommended the release of some prisoners though he would not say when or how many. The 650 detainees are from 43 countries.

Many countries have complained that the conditions of detention at Guantanamo were inhumane and violated Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

Human Rights Watch says the Geneva Conventions allow the United States to hold POWs without charge during a war but once the war ends -- as it has in Afghanistan -- prisoners must be released. The United States does not classify the detainees as prisoners of war.

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