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Friday, 10 October, 2003
Guantanamo detentions blasted
Guards and a detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002
No-one held at Guantanamo has yet been charged

A senior Red Cross official has launched a rare attack on the US detention of al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Christophe Girod told the New York Times it was unacceptable that the 600 detainees should be held for open-ended terms without proper legal process.

His criticism came as a group of American former judges, diplomats and military officers called on the US Supreme Court to examine the legality of holding the foreign nationals for almost two years, without trial, charge or access to lawyers.

Mr Girod said the International Red Cross was making the unusually blunt public statement because of a lack of action after previous private contacts with American officials.

"One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation, indefinitely," he said during a visit to the US naval base where the Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects are being held.

The open-endedness of the situation and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem
Christophe Girod, ICRC
US officials insist there are reasons for holding the alleged fighters and say they will get a fair legal hearing in due course.

Opponents say it is already nearly two years since most of the detainees were captured and they should be afforded more rights now.

Mr Girod is leading a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has just completed an inspection tour of the detention camp in Cuba.

Although he did not criticise any physical conditions at the camp, he said that it was intolerable that the complex was used as "an investigation centre, not a detention centre".

"The open-endedness of the situation and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem," he told the New York Times.

Deaf ear?

In the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts, and many more are being treated for depression, the paper says.

File photo of a watchtower at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre
US constitutional guarantees do not apply in Guantanamo
Mr Girod says prisoners who spoke to his team regularly asked about what was going to happen to them.

"It's always the number one question," he said. "They don't know about the future."

Camp officials have said most of the detainees' mental health problems existed before they arrived.

The Geneva-based ICRC is the only group outside the US Government allowed to visit the detention camp.

In exchange for access, the committee has agreed to take any initial complaints directly to Washington. It publicises its views only when it feels they are not being heeded.

In this instance, the ICRC says it has been urging the White House for months to make significant changes in Guantanamo.

The administration, Mr Girod said, should consider establishing a policy of giving detainees some idea of when they can learn whether they will be charged or released.

'Repugnant'

A group including former American judges and military officials have filed legal papers urging the US Supreme Court to intervene.

John Gibbons, a former appeals court judge, said he found it "repugnant" that the administration could order the imprisonment of people possibly beyond the reach of law.

Don Guter, the US navy's judge advocate general until last year, said it was not acceptable simply to hold suspected al-Qaeda or Taleban members until the US' war on terror was over.

The argument filed to the Supreme Court by Mr Guter and others said: "The lives of American military forces may well be endangered by the United States' failure to grant foreign prisoners in its custody the same rights that the United States insists be accorded to American prisoners held by foreigners."

That view was backed by ex-prisoners-of-war, some of whom told the Supreme Court they owed their lives to the fact that their captors abided by the Geneva Conventions.







WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Bamford
"The American administration has ignored world criticism"


Christine Huskey, Guantanamo suspects' lawyer
"What are at stake here are fundamental values... principles that we all believe in "



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For archive purposes, this article is being stored on TheWE.cc website.