At the end of a war, according to Article 20 of the Hague Convention of 1907, as later revised by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, prisoners of war must be either released to go home or put on trial for war crimes. As the American role in the Afghan civil war winds down during 2014, the subject of prisoner release from Guantánamo will inevitably have to be addressed.

Accordingly, the exchange of five members of the Taliban for one American soldier held  hostage by the Taliban for four and one-half years on May 31, 2014, has brought the Geneva Conventions back into the limelight, having been ignored ever since January 25, 2002, when Alberto Gonzalez, White House Counsel to President George W. Bush and later attorney general, authored a memorandum stating that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the “war on terror.” For the first time, several members of the media are now using the term “prisoner,” rather than the politically correct term “detainee,” as they describe the swap, although the American military claims that they always referred to the soldier as a “prisoner of war.”

guantanamo bay

The American is  28-year-old Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American held as a prisoner of war by the Taliban. Negotiations for his release had been ongoing since December 2013, but the Taliban insisted that he would be released only in exchange for a swap of all five members of the Taliban held at Guantánamo.

Bergdahl was transferred to an  American military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where he is receiving psychological care and evaluation as well as a debriefing on the circumstances of his capture. According to present plans, he will be further treated at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, and later reunited with his parents in Hailey, Idaho, after his treatment at the hospital concludes.

Although his stay in San Antonio was described as “long term,” he was reported in good physical condition upon his release, so Bergdahl may suffer from a psychological toll after four and one-half years of captivity. The Taliban may believe that his release is consistent with Article 6 of the Geneva Convention of 1864, which requires repatriation of “unfit” prisoners of war; if so, then he should have been released earlier. But that raises the question why seriously ill prisoners have been held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris, whose lawyers have petitioned for their release this year.

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