- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

This page does not condone the use of torture for extracting information. A new report by the International Committee of the Red Cross alleging that detainees in Guantanamo Bay have been abused has a number of flaws. The Pentagon has refuted the report’s claims of abuse.

According to a detailed memorandum on the ICRC report obtained by the New York Times, apparently from a U.S. government source, the ICRC has alleged that psychological and sometimes physical coercion used at Guantanamo was “tantamount to torture.” That report was made after a Red Cross inspection team spent most of last June at the facility. The report said that coercion consisted of “humiliating acts, solitary confinements, temperature extremes, use of forced positions.”

For starters, just what does tantamount to torture mean? While those practices do sound like they could elicit both physical and mental discomfort and duress, they do not appear to rise to the level of torture, or something tantamount to it.

Also, the ICRC’s bases for its allegations of abuse are the reports of the detainees themselves, not any first-hand observation of the alleged abuse, said a Pentagon official. That fact calls into question the findings, for obvious reasons. The official maintains that claims of ongoing conflict between the Pentagon and ICRC are also false. “It actually is a pretty good relationship we have with the ICRC,” he said. “They continue to make valuable comments and suggestions.”

The ICRC, which is based in Geneva and is separate from the American Red Cross, defines itself as “an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.” Also, it endeavors “to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.” Given that mission, the ICRC’s credibility in alleging acts of torture, or anything related to torture, is critical. It must be careful to ensure the practices it complains about rise to that level.

It is difficult to believe, though, that some stress on detainees doesn’t need to be exerted in order to produce intelligence.

The White House has repeatedly said it is upholding international law in its treatment of Guantanamo detainees. Without more concrete and substantiated evidence to the contrary, there seems little reason to pay the ICRC report much heed.

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