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Testimony of The International Committee of the Red Cross

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Photo Credit: Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been conducting visits to Guantánamo since January 2002. Although reports of these visits are confidential, it decided to make public statements about one of them "because of lack of action". This statement is reported in a New York Times article Red Cross Criticizes Indefinite Detention In Guantánamo Bay published on October 10, 2003. Subsequently, portions of another report of the ICRC were leaked to The New York Times, which published them in Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo on November 30, 2004. Both of these articles, written by Neil A. Lewis, have been analyzed below:

  • Analysis of the two New York Times articles mentioned above.

In addition, the Washington Post was able to obtain a number of Department of Defense memoranda that allude to the concerns that the ICRC had about the treatment of Guantánamo prisoners, thus allowing us to glean, albeit indirectly, the testimony of the Red Cross. We have posted these memoranda below.

  • A January 21, 2002 memorandum prepared by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, details a meeting with Red Cross officials. The document also explains policies governing body searches and the use of female soldiers to escort male detainees to shower facilities at Camp X-Ray. This memorandum was obtained by the Washington Post (see here).
  • A January 24, 2002 memorandum from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate explaining the actions taken in response to each of the 29 concerns raised by Red Cross officials after their visit to Camp X-Ray. This memorandum was obtained by the Washington Post (see here).
  • An October 9, 2003 memorandum outlining a meeting where Red Cross officials noted improvements at Camp X-Ray but expressed additional concerns regarding due process rights, the use of caged cells, detainee isolation and detainee repatriation rates. This memorandum was obtained by the Washington Post (see here).
  • A February 2, 2004 memorandum which includes notes from a meeting between military and Red Cross officials at Guantanamo Bay. Red Cross officials visited Camp X-Ray in early February to oversee the departure of juvenile detainees and to visit new prisoners. The discussion references changes in security at Camp X-Ray. This memorandum was obtained by the Washington Post (see here).

In April and November 2006, Candace Gorman, attorney for Guantánamo prisoner Abdul al-Ghizzawi, met with two ICRC officers. One of these officers was a medical doctor who expressed "his disgust with the United States military for the lack of medical care being provided for Al-Ghizzawi," and admitted that "it was difficult to see everyone who was ill at Guantanamo because of the medical deterioration of so many of the prisoners, in addition to those prisoners involved in the hunger strike":

We have also linked to a December 31, 2006 ICRC Operational Update where mention is made of Guantánamo:

  • A December 31, 2006 operational update in which the ICRC continues to express its concern that “uncertainty about the [Guantánamo] prisoners’ fate has added to the mental and emotional strain experienced by many detainees and their families”.

On February 14, 2007, the ICRC issued a report on the treatment of fourteen high value detainees before they were transferred to Guantánamo:

According to this report, the individuals in question were subjected to "arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearance in contravention to international law," as well as to "severe physical and mental pain and suffering with the aim of obtaining compliance and extracting information." The report also found that the allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that this treatment "constituted torture," and that many other elements of this treatment "constituted cruel inhuman or degrading treatment." Finally, it found that the alleged participation of health personnel in the interrogation process and in the infliction of ill-treatment "constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." This report was leaked to the press in April 2009.

On April 5, 2007, Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the ICRC granted an interview to the Washington Post. In it he faulted the US government for rights protections at Guantánamo. We have analyzed that interview below.

On November 16, 2007 Simon Schorno, spokesman for the ICRC said his organization was aware that they were not having access to all the prisoners at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004. These statements were made to the New York Times here:

In January 2008, ICRC pointed out that "the US must do more to protect the rights of prisoners held in detention camps at Guantanamo Bay and at Bagram". ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger also stated that "the organization remains concerned about interrogation methods" and demanded that prisoners receive trials in "regular courts":


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