Tuesday, July 13, 2004

GENEVA — The international Red Cross said yesterday it suspects the United States is hiding detainees in lockups across the globe, though the agency has been granted access to thousands of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere.

Terror suspects reported by the FBI as captured have never turned up in detention centers, and the United States has failed to reply to agency demands for a list of everyone it’s holding, Antonella Notari, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in an interview with the Associated Press.

“These people are, as far as we can tell, detained in locations that are undisclosed not only to us but also to the rest of the world,” Mrs. Notari said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday he was “looking further into” the Red Cross concerns and added: “We do work closely with the Red Cross on all detainee issues.” He did not concede a problem exists.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to all Defense Department detention operations.”

However, in his report into claims of abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba found that military police there had “routinely held persons brought to them by other government agencies without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention.”

On at least one occasion, they moved these “ghost detainees” around the prison to hide them from a visiting Red Cross delegation, he said in the report. He described the actions as “deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law.”

Under the Geneva Conventions, the United States is obliged to give the neutral, Swiss-run ICRC access to prisoners of war and other detainees to check on their conditions and allow them to send messages to their families.

The United States says it is cooperating with the agency, and has allowed Red Cross delegates access to thousands of prisoners in Afghanistan, at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq, where agency delegates have even visited Saddam Hussein.

It is not clear whether terror suspects would be covered by the Geneva Conventions, but Mrs. Notari said that “for humanitarian reasons” the Red Cross should be told about all detainees.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger made the request in January on a visit to Washington during which he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“So far we haven’t had a satisfactory reply,” Mrs. Notari said.

She said the FBI has posted details of arrested suspects on its Web site, and other arrests have been reported by the media, but some of those people have never shown up in prisons that the Red Cross visits.

Mrs. Notari said she had read media reports that some people are being held at Diego Garcia, a British-held island in the Indian Ocean that the United States uses as a strategic military base, but the ICRC has not been notified of any prisoners there.

“We just simply have absolutely no confirmation of this in any formal way,” she said.

ICRC delegates visited nearly 500,000 detainees in around 80 countries last year, including almost 11,000 in Iraq.

In an interview in yesterday’s edition of the German business daily Handelsblatt, Mr. Kellenberger defended the ICRC’s policy of refusing to comment publicly on the conditions that it finds in places of detention, preferring to negotiate directly with the authorities.

The agency faced criticism for not speaking out about the abuse at Abu Ghraib until it was revealed in the media.

“Certain people had the impression that our repeated, confidential approaches to the U.S. authorities were falling flat,” Mr. Kellenberger said.

“But impressions can be wrong. When we visited Abu Ghraib in January 2004, we found improvements compared with October 2003, and when we visited in March it was better than in January.”

The ICRC has, however, spoken out on its concerns over the continued detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

“I made it clear in January that we were not happy with the improvements,” Mr. Kellenberger said. “The most recent visit has just finished. We must now study the findings.”

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