2 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 27

POW politics

From Mr Frederick Forsyth Sir: Your correspondent Robert Henderson (Letters, 26 January) joins the large British chorus denouncing the Americans for not according the detainees of Guantanamo Bay prisoner-of-war status. There are two valid points to be made about this indictment of the USA.

One is that there is nothing in law forbidding the British media (and Mr Henderson) from actually reading the text of the Geneva Convention. Such a perusal would reveal that there are clear conditions that have to be fulfilled to justify POW status and the members of al-Qa'eda do not qualify. In short, the USA is right in law. Sorry.

More to the point, if one is charged with a civil offence, one gets a specific accusation, due process, a legal defence, habeas corpus, an open court, legal aid, trial by jury and right of appeal. The list goes on and on. A POW is entitled to none of this.

Under the Convention, provided he gets two square meals a day, a bed in a shed, ablutions, exercise and company, a POW can be kept behind barbed wire until the end of hostilities. Given that the USA has decreed it is at war against global terrorism, that could take several decades.

I think that if I were sitting in Cuba waiting for the Americans to make up their minds about me, I would want my British sympathisers to be quiet and mind their own business.

Frederick Forsyth