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In January 2002, when the first group of detainees arrived at the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. Department of State announced that the men detained at Guantánamo Bay were to be “characterized as ‘unlawful combatants’ rather than prisoners of war.” (U.S. Department of State, January 11, 2002) By describing detainees with the intentionally ambiguous term “unlawful combatants” instead of prisoners of war, they are excluded from the protections granted by the Third Geneva Convention. With this designation, the United States government established a precedent of treating Guantánamo Bay and the men detained there as existing in a space outside of federal and international law. In the following years, the terminology used to designate Guantánamo as separate from the rest of the American legal system has expanded to include ‘detainees’ instead of ‘prisoners’, and ‘temporary’ instead of ‘indefinite’. Each of these changes has significant implications for detainees’ rights to share their artwork, access medical care, and advocate for their release in court. "Unlawful Combatants or Prisoners of War?: The Ambiguous Language of Guantánamo Bay" begins by tracing the efforts of the Bush administration to circumvent the international laws regulating war by defining detainees as “unlawful combatants” rather than what they are: prisoners of the War on Terror. In an analysis of the language used in legal frameworks and historical records, this study will examine the impact of the “unlawful combatant” designation on detainees’ right to ownership of art made while at Guantánamo as well as the right to identification documents upon release.



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Unlawful Combatants or Prisoners of War?: The Ambiguous Language of Guantánamo Bay