Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo - NY Times, USA (And related links)
- Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo
By NEIL A. LEWIS
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 - The International Committee of
the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to
the United States government that the American
military has intentionally used psychological and
sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on
prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The finding that the handling of prisoners detained
and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture
came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that
spent most of last June in Guantánamo.
The team of humanitarian workers, which included
experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some
doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were
participating in planning for interrogations, in what
the report called "a flagrant violation of medical
Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information
about prisoners' mental health and vulnerabilities to
interrogators, the report said, sometimes directly,
but usually through a group called the Behavioral
Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known
informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists
and psychological workers who advise the
interrogators, the report said.
The United States government, which received the
report in July, sharply rejected its charges,
administration and military officials said.
The report was distributed to lawyers at the White
House, Pentagon and State Department and to the
commander of the detention facility at Guantánamo,
Gen. Jay W. Hood. The New York Times recently obtained
a memorandum, based on the report, that quotes from it
in detail and lists its major findings.
It was the first time that the Red Cross, which has
been conducting visits to Guantánamo since January
2002, asserted in such strong terms that the treatment
of detainees, both physical and psychological,
amounted to torture. The report said that another
confidential report in January 2003, which has never
been disclosed, raised questions of whether
"psychological torture" was taking place.
The Red Cross said publicly 13 months ago that the
system of keeping detainees indefinitely without
allowing them to know their fates was unacceptable and
would lead to mental health problems.
The report of the June visit said investigators had
found a system devised to break the will of the
prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and
make them wholly dependent on their interrogators
through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement,
temperature extremes, use of forced positions."
Investigators said that the methods used were
increasingly "more refined and repressive" than
learned about on previous visits.
"The construction of such a system, whose stated
purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be
considered other than an intentional system of cruel,
unusual and degrading treatment and a form of
torture," the report said. It said that in addition to
the exposure to loud and persistent noise and music
and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to
"some beatings." The report did not say how many of
the detainees were subjected to such treatment.
Asked about the accusations in the report, a Pentagon
spokesman provided a statement saying, "The United
States operates a safe, humane and professional
detention operation at Guantánamo that is providing
valuable information in the war on terrorism."
It continued that personnel assigned to Guantánamo "go
through extensive professional and sensitivity
training to ensure they understand the procedures for
protecting the rights and dignity of detainees."
The conclusions by the inspection team, especially the
findings involving alleged complicity in mistreatment
by medical professionals, have provoked a stormy
debate within the Red Cross committee. Some officials
have argued that it should make its concerns public or
at least aggressively confront the Bush
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is
based in Geneva and is separate from the American Red
Cross, was founded in 1863 as an independent, neutral
organization intended to provide humanitarian
protection and assistance for victims of war.
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
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
"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."
The Pentagon also said the medical care given
detainees was first-rate. Although the Red Cross
criticized the lack of confidentiality, it agreed in
the report that the medical care was of high quality.
Leonard S. Rubenstein, the executive director of
Physicians for Human Rights, was asked to comment on
the account of the Red Cross report, and said, "The
use of medical personnel to facilitate abusive
interrogations places them in an untenable position
and violates international ethical standards."
Mr. Rubenstein added, "We need to know more about
these practices, including whether health
professionals engaged in calibrating levels of pain
inflicted on detainees."
The issue of whether torture at Guantánamo was
condoned or encouraged has been a problem before for
the Bush administration.
In February 2002, President Bush ordered that the
prisoners at Guantánamo be treated "humanely and, to
the extent appropriate with military necessity, in a
manner consistent with" the Geneva Conventions. That
statement masked a roiling legal discussion within the
administration as government lawyers wrote a series of
memorandums, many of which seemed to justify harsh and
A month after Mr. Bush's public statement, a team of
administration lawyers accepted a view first advocated
by the Justice Department that the president had wide
powers in authorizing coercive treatment of detainees.
The legal team in a memorandum concluded that Mr. Bush
was not bound by either the international Convention
Against Torture or a federal antitorture statute
because he had the authority to protect the nation
That document provides tightly constructed definitions
of torture. For example, if an interrogator "knows
that severe pain will result from his actions, if
causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the
requisite specific intent even though the defendant
did not act in good faith," it said. "Instead, a
defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with
the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or
suffering on a person within his control."
When some administration memorandums about coercive
treatment or torture were disclosed, the White House
said they were only advisory.
Last month, military guards, intelligence agents and
others described in interviews with The Times a range
of procedures that they said were highly abusive
occurring over a long period, as well as rewards for
prisoners who cooperated with interrogators. The
people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison
facility, said that one regular procedure was making
uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear,
having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and
foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to
endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music
played through two close loudspeakers, while the
air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.
Some accounts of techniques at Guantánamo have been
easy to dismiss because they seemed so implausible.
The most striking of the accusations, which have come
mainly from a group of detainees released to their
native Britain, has been that the military used
prostitutes who made coarse comments and come-ons to
taunt some prisoners who are Muslims.
But the Red Cross report hints strongly at an
explanation of some of those accusations by stating
that there were frequent complaints by prisoners in
2003 that some of the female interrogators baited
their subjects with sexual overtures.
Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the detention and
intelligence operation at Guantánamo until April, when
he took over prison operations in Iraq, said in an
interview early this year about general interrogation
procedures that the female interrogators had proved to
be among the most effective. General Miller's
observation matches common wisdom among experienced
intelligence officers that women may be effective as
interrogators when seen by their subjects as mothers
or sisters. Sexual taunting does not, however, comport
with what is often referred to as the "mother-sister
But the Red Cross report said that complaints about
the practice of sexual taunting stopped in the last
year. Guantánamo officials have acknowledged that they
have improved their techniques and that some earlier
methods they tried proved to be ineffective, raising
the possibility that the sexual taunting was an
experiment that was abandoned.
Correction: December 1, 2004, Wednesday:
A front-page article yesterday citing a confidential
report in which the International Committee of the Red
Cross accused the American military of using
psychological and sometimes physical coercion on
prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, misstated the rank
of Jay W. Hood, commander of the detention facility
there. He is a brigadier general, not a general.
U.S. Group Urges Rumsfeld War Crimes Probe in Germany
BERLIN (Reuters) - A U.S. human rights group urged
German prosecutors Tuesday to investigate accusations
that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior U.S.
officers are guilty of war crimes over the Iraqi
prisoner abuse scandal. In an unusual legal move, the
U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has filed
a criminal complaint with Germany's Federal
Prosecutors along with four Iraqis who say they were
tortured and humiliated alongside other prisoners by
U.S. soldiers at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison
US torture at Guantanamo 'increasingly repressive'
The Red Cross has accused President George Bush's
administration of overseeing the intentional physical
and psychological torture of prisoners held at
Guantanamo Bay. It also accused doctors and medics of
liaising with interrogators in what was a "flagrant
violation of medical ethics".
Abu Ghraib, Caribbean Style
Published: December 1, 2004
Ever since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the Bush
administration has claimed that the abuses depicted in
those horrible photos were an isolated problem that
was immediately fixed. The White House has repeatedly
proclaimed its respect for the Geneva Conventions,
international law and American statutes governing the
treatment of prisoners. An article in The Times on
Tuesday by Neil A. Lewis showed how hollow those
assurances are. According to the International
Committee of the Red Cross, prisoners at Guantánamo
Bay, where the United States warehouses men captured
in Afghanistan, have been subject to unremitting abuse
that is sometimes "tantamount to torture." This
continued well after the Abu Ghraib scandal came to
light, and it may still be going on.
List of American War Crimes:
List of Abuses in Iraq:
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