IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Red Cross delivers report on Guantanamo

The Red Cross gave U.S. authorities a report on the treatment of prisoners held at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, but declined to say Thursday whether it cited abuses similar to those it found in Iraq.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Red Cross gave U.S. authorities a report on the treatment of prisoners held at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, but declined to say Thursday whether it cited abuses similar to those it found in Iraq.

The document, based on organization visits to the base in February and March, was given earlier this month to officials at the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council, said Antonella Notari, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Notari declined to discuss the report’s contents or say which individuals had received it.

“These reports are strictly confidential, meant for the authorities only,” she told The Associated Press.

“This document forms part of the ICRC’s standard reporting on its work in places of detention. There’s nothing extraordinary about the fact that we handed it over. We always report on visits.”

Grave reservations
The ICRC has previous expressed grave reservations about the U.S. military’s practice of holding without charge hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo. Most of the detainees were captured in the war that ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban in late 2001.

Two former Guantanamo detainees said interrogators forced prisoners to strip, chained them to a floor for hours and used deafening music and dogs to extract confessions.

In a letter sent Thursday to President Bush and the Senate Armed Services Committee, Britons Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal detail the alleged abuse they encountered during their two-year detention.

That included not being allowed to use the bathroom during interrogations that often lasted 12 hours, they said.

“Soldiers told us, ’We can do anything we want,”’ they said in the letter released by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is providing counsel to the men.

Both are back in England since their March 8 release.

An Army spokesman for the detention mission at Guantanamo denied the men’s allegations.

“We have never applied any of those techniques,” Army Lt. Col. Leon Sumpter said.

But Guantanamo officials have said two guards received administrative punishments for hitting a detainee with a radio and spraying a detainee with a hose. A third guard investigated was cleared of wrongdoing.

The ICRC has been visiting Guantanamo regularly since the first of about 600 detainees — some suspected of having al-Qaida links — arrived in January 2002. But the neutral, Swiss-run agency has never disclosed its specific findings.

Under the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare, the ICRC is empowered to visit prisoners, but it usually steers clear of public comment, maintaining that its quiet approach is the best protection for victims of war.

Last week, however, the ICRC faced demands that it drop its policy of confidentiality after The Wall Street Journal published excerpts from its report on Iraq.

The Red Cross report indicated that U.S. forces abused Iraqi detainees for more than a year while the organization repeatedly complained to U.S. officials in private, raising the question of whether the agency could have been more effective had it gone public with its findings.

The ICRC gave the report in February to the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul Bremer, and top U.S. military commanders in Baghdad who report to the Defense Department.

'Enemy combatants'
The universally accepted Geneva Conventions spell out protection of detainees and others during wartime, and the ICRC is designated by the accords to visit them.

But U.S. authorities say the accords do not apply to the Guantanamo detainees, calling them “enemy combatants” as opposed to prisoners of war. The ICRC has unsuccessfully urged the U.S. military to clarify the detainees’ legal status, saying each is a POW unless a tribunal rules otherwise.

U.S. authorities nevertheless say the prisoners are to be treated consistent with the Geneva Conventions, and have allowed visits by the ICRC — the only independent group granted such permission.

Organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have claimed prisoners at the base have been mistreated.

The clearest sign so far of Red Cross disquiet emerged in January, when its president, Jakob Kellenberger, met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Following their talks, the ICRC at the time said it was unhappy that “certain aspects of the conditions and treatment in Guantanamo have not yet been adequately addressed.”

“Despite repeated pleas, they are still facing seemingly indefinite detention beyond the reach of the law,” it said.