Afsane Bassir Pour / Le Monde – 2004-05-06 09:43:57
The Red Cross Accuses: “The Photos are Shocking, but Our Reports are Worse”
GENEVA (May 5, 2004) – – The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has known for a long time that “worse things than what are shown in the photos” have been taking place at the big Abou Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad. “We don’t need the photos to know what’s going on and that it’s not acceptable,” says the ICRC spokesperson, Antonella Notari.
According to her, the ICRC had already made several reports and recommendations to the American and British authorities in Iraq “in the first instance” and to their superiors in Washington and London “in the second place”.
“The photos are certainly shocking, but our reports are worse,” says Mrs. Notari, who nonetheless refuses to detail the contents of those reports, in conformity with ICRC standard practice. That’s the price the group pays, she explains, for being able to make “impromptu and regular” visits to the Abou Ghraib prison every five or six weeks since Iraqi prisoners have been held there, starting in October 2003.
“We knew and we had told the Americans that what was going on at Abou Ghraib is reprehensible.” Mrs. Notari categorically denies the statements of General Janis Karpinski, commander of the units responsible for prisons in Iraq, according to which “military intelligence men” prevented the detainees in cell block 1A — where the tortures were practiced — from seeing ICRC delegates.
“We are not simpletons,” retorts Antonella Notari, “our representatives are extremely experienced and they speak to lots of people inside the prison, we always end up knowing the truth in all the world’s prisons and the truth about Abou Ghraib is shocking.”
The ICRC demands that the abuses committed against Iraqi prisoners be punished by the law. “When there is information about torture, sanctions must be quickly enforced; it’s extremely important; it makes the people in charge of the prisoners responsible and sends a very clear preventive message to others.”
According to its representatives, if the ICRC has remained “very discreet” about the abuses, it’s only because its reports “have been taken very seriously” by the Americans. Relations between the United States and the ICRC are more complicated on the Guantanamo naval base.
The “persistent” refusal of the United States to respect the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war has actually led the ICRC, for the first time, to publicly condemn the “illegality” of the arbitrary detention of the 600 prisoners who are there.
Since the fall of the Baathist regime in April 2003, the ICRC has recorded more than 11,000 Iraqi prisoners in Iraq, some of whom have been released in the mean time. According to the organization, there were two categories of prisoner in the Abou Ghraib prison: former fighters from Saddam Hussein’s army, who have prisoner of war status; and civilians interned “for different reasons”, but to whom the Geneva conventions — of which the ICRC has been the steward since 1949 — equally well apply.
The ICRC concentrates on “the prisoners who are most vulnerable, that is, those who are detained for security reasons.” The fact that the coalition used the Abou Ghraib prison “shocked the Iraqi people very much,” says Antonella Notari, “because this prison was famous for the atrocities the Saddam Hussein regime committed there.”
The NGOs Too…
The UN is also timidly mobilizing. Tuesday May 4, the High Commission for Human Rights named “an independent expert” to investigate the violations committed by belligerents in Iraq. The Icelandic judge Jakob Moller has been charged with conducting “an evaluation exercise.” His mandate and his resources have yet to be defined.
One of the strongest voices against abuses in Iraq could be that of Theo van Boven. A personage well-respected by human rights’ advocates, this Dutch magistrate is the UN’s special reporter on torture. In a communiqué on Tuesday, he demanded “an inquiry, prosecutions, and punishment” as well as reparations to the victims of these violations.
Non-governmental organizations are also multiplying their denunciations. The International Federation for Human Rights has already called on the Swiss government, as the depositary and agent for the Geneva conventions, to assemble an international conference, to, as the Federation’s General Secretary put it, “find solutions for the violations of international humanitarian law committed in Iraq.”
Human Rights Watch has demanded that the inquiry be extended to “the superior authorities” so that it may be known “whether they ordered or tolerated these abuses, which are possibly war crimes.”
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.