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Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo

Published: November 30, 2004

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Angel Franco/The New York Times
In the interrogation room, enemy combatants are brought in with leg shackles which are attached to the ring in the floor in front of the folding chair at left.

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International Committee of the Red Cross

Freedom and Human Rights

Armament, Defense and Military Forces


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Angel Franco/The New York Times
A detainee who cooperates with interrogators and follows rules is given white clothing to wear.

Angel Franco/The New York Times
A cell and a meeting room at Camp Echo at Guantánamo, where lawyers can meet with detainees.

(Page 2 of 3)

Its officials are able to visit prisoners at Guantánamo under the kind of arrangement the committee has made with governments for decades. In exchange for exclusive access to the prison camp and meetings with detainees, the committee has agreed to keep its findings confidential. The findings are shared only with the government that is detaining people.

Beatricé Mégevand-Roggo, a senior Red Cross official, said in an interview that she could not say anything about information relayed to the United States government because "we do not comment in any way on the substance of the reports we submit to the authorities."

Ms. Mégevand-Roggo, the committee's delegate-general for Europe and the Americas, acknowledged that the issue of confidentiality was a chronic and vexing one for the organization. "Many people do not understand why we have these bilateral agreements about confidentiality," she said. "People are led to believe that we are a fig leaf or worse, that we are complicit with the detaining authorities."

She added, "It's a daily dilemma for us to put in the balance the positive effects our visits have for detainees against the confidentiality."

Antonella Notari, a veteran Red Cross official and spokeswoman, said that the organization frequently complained to the Pentagon and other arms of the American government when government officials cite the Red Cross visits to suggest that there is no abuse at Guantánamo. Most statements from the Pentagon in response to queries about mistreatment at Guantánamo do, in fact, include mention of the visits.

In a recent interview with reporters, General Hood, the commander of the detention and interrogation facility at Guantánamo, also cited the committee's visits in response to questions about treatment of detainees. "We take everything the Red Cross gives us and study it very carefully to look for ways to do our job better," he said in his Guantánamo headquarters, adding that he agrees "with some things and not others."

"I'm satisfied that the detainees here have not been abused, they've not been mistreated, they've not been tortured in any way," he said.

Scott Horton, a New York lawyer, who is familiar with some of the Red Cross's views, said the issue of medical ethics at Guantánamo had produced "a tremendous controversy in the committee." He said that some Red Cross officials believed it was important to maintain confidentiality while others believed the United States government was misrepresenting the inspections and using them to counter criticisms.

Mr. Horton, who heads the human rights committee of the Bar Association of the City of New York, said the Red Cross committee was considering whether to bring more senior officials to Washington and whether to make public its criticisms.

The report from the June visit said the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement. It said the medical files of detainees were "literally open" to interrogators.

The report said the Biscuit team met regularly with the medical staff to discuss the medical situations of detainees. At other times, interrogators sometimes went directly to members of the medical staff to learn about detainees' conditions, it said.

The report said that such "apparent integration of access to medical care within the system of coercion" meant that inmates were not cooperating with doctors. Inmates learn from their interrogators that they have knowledge of their medical histories and the result is that the prisoners no longer trust the doctors.

Asked for a response, the Pentagon issued a statement saying, "The allegation that detainee medical files were used to harm detainees is false." The statement said that the detainees were "enemy combatants who were fighting against U.S. and coalition forces."

"It's important to understand that when enemy combatants were first detained on the battlefield, they did not have any medical records in their possession," the statement continued. "The detainees had a wide range of pre-existing health issues including battlefield injuries."

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