- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday it still sees “significant problems” with how the United States has treated terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But it refused to “publicly confirm or deny” a news account about a confidential ICRC report charging the U.S. military with using psychological and physical coercion equivalent to torture on Guantanamo prisoners.

A Defense spokesman denied that any of the 550 men held at the naval base have been mistreated, saying the Pentagon has conducted numerous investigations into their handling and “found no credible instances” of abuse.

The ICRC yesterday praised the Pentagon for recently creating an Office of Detainee Affairs to deal with issues relating to the prisoners but questioned the seriousness with which U.S. authorities are taking accusations of prisoner abuses.

“The ICRC remains concerned that significant problems regarding conditions and treatment at Guantanamo Bay have not yet been adequately addressed,” the organization said on its Web site.

The remarks by the ICRC, which considers itself a neutral organization and rarely makes public its views on prisoner treatment, came on the same day as a report by the New York Times that ICRC inspectors had found activities “tantamount to torture” at Guantanamo.

The Times cited a memo based on a confidential ICRC report that said doctors and medical personnel at Guantanamo had delivered information about prisoners’ mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators — which the inspectors called unethical.

The inspectors found that a system had been devised at Guantanamo to break the will of prisoners and make them dependent on interrogators through “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of force positions,” according to the Times’ account of the memo.

The newspaper said the findings had been sent to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and State Department and to Guantanamo’s commander, Gen. Jay W. Hood, after a visit to the prison by an ICRC inspection team in June.

The ICRC, which monitored the treatment of an estimated 450,000 prisoners in nearly 80 countries last year, has made multiple visits to Guantanamo since early 2002.

The visits enable detainees to communicate with their families through Red Cross messages, but also serve to monitor whether prisoners “are treated in accordance with applicable international laws and standards.” The ICRC said it intends to pursue “discussions on these issues with the U.S. authorities.”

A Defense Department spokesman said military officials “vehemently deny any allegations of torture at Guantanamo, and reject categorically allegations that the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is improper.”

“The allegation that detainee medical files were used to harm detainees is false,” the spokesman said. “The United States does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances.”

Further, he said the Defense Department has “not denied medical care to a detainee to obtain information during an interrogation.”

The ICRC said contents of its reports are “confidential and for the exclusive attention of the relevant detaining authorities.”

“The ICRC uses its exchanges with governments to make clear its concerns and recommendations regarding the situation in places of detention and to demand changes when necessary,” the organization said. “Guantanamo Bay is no exception.”

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