In Justice at Guantanamo? The Paradox of David Hicks, Prof. Devika Hovell of the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, provides a very measured introduction to the legal quagmire which is the ongoing trial of “Australian Taliban” David Hicks.
Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention, which requires all persons falling into enemy hands to be presumed to be a prisoner of war until determined otherwise by a competent tribunal. Rather than hold a hearing to determine Hicks’s status, the US has instead presumed he is an ‘enemy combatant’ (a category not recognized by the Geneva Conventions, which divides people into soldier-POW or citizen-criminal). Irregulars, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, likely fall within the “[m]embers of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces” who all are entitled to POW status. (Whether Hicks falls into this group may well be debatable, but it has yet to be debated.)
Unlike the new rules invented by the Pentagon, a mere “enemy combatant” gets a very very second class kind of trial, far below what the Geneva Convention would require for a POW. Aside from their fundamental injustice (see Condemned By the Company We Keep), Prof. Hovell reminds us that there’s another problem too: ” Failure to provide a prisoner of war with a fair trial constitutes a war crime.”