DoD Values Red Cross Scrutiny, Ideas for Improvement
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2004 The United States welcomes the International Committee of the Red Cross's scrutiny of detainee operations and listens closely to their suggestions, said defense officials during a background briefing at the Pentagon, June 24.
"We don't expect to always agree with (the Red Cross), and they don't expect to always agree with us," said a defense official on background. "What we consider valuable in our relationship is that we continue to talk, because it's in that continual dialogue that we find ways of addressing each other's concerns and each other's interests."
The Defense Department shared with members of Congress today the findings, suggestions and recommendations Red Cross delegates submitted to commanders following inspections of detainment facilities. Under the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross inspects these types of facilities around the world to ensure humane treatment of detainees.
The United States does not release the comments the Red Cross delegates make because those suggestions and observations are confidential. But the United States has nothing to hide in its detention program, the briefer said.
Officials discussed all they could about ICRC visits to the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States.
ICRC delegates visited the Guantanamo detention facility beginning in January 2002 very soon after it opened. One issue Red Cross delegates were concerned about was the treatment of the three detainees who were younger than age 17. The delegates "were quite interested in making sure that their treatment was proper and discussed those issues with the commander of the Joint Task Force.
Red Cross officials focused on mail and delivery of messages. The official said Red Cross delegates have delivered more than 8,500 messages to detainees at Guantanamo.
The briefer said the delegates also discussed the open-ended nature of detention and how the detainees perceive it.
Red Cross delegates also have expressed an interest in military commissions and "have wanted to know more about how they would function and the rules that would apply to those proceedings."
In Bagram, Afghanistan, ICRC delegates have private visits with detainees and facilitate messages and mail. The delegates often work to coordinate detainees' releases. Often "finding the villages where a detainee needs to go is a hard task, and we benefit from this good relationship we have with the ICRC," the official said.
The Red Cross is concerned about the length of time detainees are spending in the facility in Bagram. Initially designed as a short-term holding area, detainees are spending longer times in the facility. The official said the Red Cross probably will bring this concern to U.S. authorities.
Another senior DoD official today re-emphasized the department's position. "We respect the work of the ICRC," the official said. "It is valuable and important to us to have that organization doing the job it's doing."