Americans have this delightful and amusing habit of converting and expanding the meanings of English words from their traditional into new (and sometimes quite different) significance.
For example, the word redundancy traditionally means, and still does in many countries, a state of being in excess, in superabundance. It may also be used to convey the status of an employee that has become superfluous to the needs of the company – eg. He was retrenched because the company suffered from staff redundancy.
But the Americanisation of this English word provides it with a new significance, that as a standby or spare component of a system that kicks (usually automatically) into operations when the normal or active component fails – eg. an aeroplane that is capable of full automatic (pilot’s hands off) landing must enjoy triple redundancy in the auto-pilot system.
Now, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has introduced another such new meaning, though not for system safety in his case. He defended the practice by the US military Intelligence of holding unrecorded Iraqi prisoners, otherwise termed as ‘ghosts’ (meaning no one would know they had been taken prisoners, thus no one would check or inquire on their treatment by their US captors).
Rumsfeld stated that those prisoners were enemy combatants and not prisoners of war (POW), which would have entitled them to the protection of Geneva Conventions for treatment of POWs.
By splitting terminological hairs Rumsfeld has in his personal definition of Iraqi captives, indicated that the US could and thus would be doing ‘more’ to those enemy combatants than would be permitted under the Conventions. He has in those two English words abrogated one of the hallmarks of civilised decency. It is a terrible, ominous and shameful indication of the Bush Administration's lack of intention to observe universally accepted and agreed standards of treatment for enemies captured in a war.
Captured enemy combatants not POWs? Who then would be POWs? Mother Teresa and her order of ‘The Missionaries of Charity’?