GENEVA - The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that an anti-terrorism law approved by President Bush last week undermines international humanitarian law.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger warned that the Military Commissions Act “disrupts” parts of the Geneva Conventions that are regarded as “elementary considerations of humanity.”
“Our preliminary reading of the new legislation raised new concerns and questions,” Mr. Kellenberger said in an interview published on the ICRC’s Web site.
The law signed by Mr. Bush on Tuesday allows secret overseas CIA prisons, harsh interrogation practices and military trials of terrorism suspects. The measure, which U.S. lawmakers approved last month after a bitter election-year debate over national security and civil liberties, also allows the United States to detain terrorist suspects indefinitely, U.S. officials said.
Mr. Kellenberger raised concerns about the “very broad definition” of “an unlawful enemy combatant” and the lack of explicit prohibition of the admission of evidence obtained by coercion.
The new U.S. law also omitted segments of a key section common to all parts of the Geneva Conventions, Article 3, prohibiting humiliating and degrading treatment and denying the right to fair trial, while retaining others, Mr. Kellenberger said.
“This distinction between the different violations disrupts the integrity of common Article three.”
“Over time, the protections enunciated in common Article three came to be regarded as so fundamental to preserving humanity in war that its rules are now referred to as ‘elementary considerations of humanity’ that must be observed in any type of armed conflict,” the ICRC chief added.
Mr. Kellenberger declared this is “a minimum” that countries are bound to apply in its entirety.
Until now, U.S. authorities have explicitly upheld Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, recognizing it as “the minimum legal standard applicable to persons detained in the fight against terrorism” after a Supreme Court ruling in June, he said.
The interview also dealt with a recent U.S. Department of Defense directive on detention and a new Army field manual on interrogation, as well as the disclosure of the CIA detention program.
“The ICRC is carefully examining these developments and is in a dialogue with the U.S. Government regarding the legal and practical impact they could have,” Mr. Kellenberger said.
He welcomed the recent transfer of 14 terrorism suspects from secret detention to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were visited by Red Cross delegates this month to check on their conditions.
“This is perhaps the issue on which the change has been most significant,” he said.
“The U.S. authorities have also said that there are no longer any persons held in undisclosed CIA places of detention.”