2002 January 18

President Bush Declares Guantanamo Bay Detainees Not Prisoners of War


President George W. Bush announced on this day that detainees at Guantanamo Bay were not prisoners of war, and, as a result, were exempt from the protections guaranteed to all such prisoners by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (See the adoption of the Geneva Conventions [plural] on December 8, 1949.)

The claim by President Bush on this issue was only one of many in which his administration sought to insulate its actions in the war on terror from public scrutiny (through secrecy), American law (though excessive claims of presidential power), and international human rights agreements (as in the case here). On June 29, 2006, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Justice Stevens in Hamdan: “Common Article 3’s requirements are general, crafted to accommodate a wide variety of legal systems, but they are requirements nonetheless. The [President Bush military] commission convened to try Hamdan does not meet those requirements.”

Read: Karen Greenberg, The Least Worst Place: How Guantanamo Became the World’s Most Notorious Prison (2009)

Learn more about President Bush and the detainees: Howard Ball, Bush, The Detainees, & the Constitution: The Battle Over Presidential Power in the War on Terror (2007)

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