Friday, 10 October, 2003
Guantanamo detentions blasted
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
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.
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
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.
In the past 18 months, 21 detainees have
made 32 suicide attempts, and many more are being treated for
depression, the paper says.
Mr Girod says prisoners who spoke to his team regularly asked about what was going to happen to them.
US constitutional guarantees do not apply in Guantanamo
"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.
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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