Charles Aldinger / Reuters – 2004-06-21 14:05:14
BAGHDAD (May 13, 2004) — The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a new report criticizing the detention of hundreds of suspects at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Pentagon official said on Thursday.
The senior official, who asked not to be identified, gave no details, but told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq that the ICRC had delivered the report to the State Department this week.
“It was described to him (Rumsfeld) as critical,” the official said, noting that the Red Cross had repeatedly complained about the imprisonment at Guantanamo of more than 500 people — most of them captured in Afghanistan — in stark cells for up to two years or more without charges.
ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal in Geneva confirmed the agency had handed over a confidential report on Guantanamo to US authorities as part of its standard procedure, but declined to give any details.
“We did indeed hand over a report, on our latest detention visits to Guantanamo Bay, in early May. Specifically the report covers our findings made during our latest visit in February and March,” Westphal told Reuters.
Earlier, Westphal said the ICRC was concerned the Guantanamo detainees were in legal limbo “beyond the reach of the law.”
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger raised the issue with top US officials in January, saying in a statement at the time the agency’s concerns had “not yet been adequately addressed.”
“That remains entirely valid,” Westphal said on Thursday.
A recently publicised ICRC report on conditions at US prisons in Iraq fueled international outrage over abuse of detainees by American military police. The ICRC found abuse was “in some cases tantamount to torture.”
The New York Times, citing counterterrorism officials, reported on Thursday that CIA interrogation methods used to extract information from al Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo and other undisclosed locations are so severe the FBI has told its agents to stay away from the sessions.
It said FBI officials had advised the bureau’s director, Robert S. Mueller III, that the interrogation techniques, which would be prohibited in criminal cases, could compromise their agents in future criminal cases.
The United States makes a distinction between detainees held under the Geneva Convention, such as those in Iraq, and what Washington calls “enemy combatants” held at Guantanamo.
Many of those held at the base in Cuba are suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters captured in Afghanistan who the United States says are not legally entitled to the rights accorded to prisoners of war.
Vice Admiral Albert Church, the US Navy’s inspector general, told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld he personally inspected the Guantanamo base last week and found prisoners were treated humanely.
“We found minor infractions involving contact with detainees. And we documented eight of those over the past 18 months to two years,” ranging from giving a detainee an unauthorized haircut to a guard hitting a prisoner after the prisoner bit him, Church said.
He said the infractions drew punishment ranging from reprimands to demotions in military rank. “We found no evidence of current abuse,” the admiral added.
He said officials in Guantanamo reported about 14 incidents a week of “abuse” of guards by detainees, ranging from verbal assaults to throwing human waste on guards.
“When you see the stress that the guards work under, with the discipline and the whole procedure down there … I’m amazed that there weren’t more incidents,” Church said.
Church said that he and a team of about 15 specialists, including doctors and lawyers, were ordered by Rumsfeld to check procedures at Guantanamo and at the US Navy brig (prison) in Charleston, South Carolina. He said there were no problems found at the brig, where some American prisoners are being held.
— Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michael Rhea in Washington