Red Cross Say Guatanamo Conditions ‘Deteriorating’

By Alexander Higgins, Associated Press, Washington Post, Friday 10 October 2003; 9:02 AM

Mental Health of Detainees Suffering, Aid Group Says

GENEVA—The International Red Cross said Friday many detainees held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were suffering “a worrying deterioration” in mental health because Washington had ignored appeals to give them legal rights.

“They have no idea about their fate and they have no means of recourse at their disposal through any legal mechanism,” said Florian Westphal, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Westphal said the ICRC, the only independent body with access to the detainees, said it had yet to see “any significant movement” from U.S. officials to its long-standing request that the United States give the detainees due legal process in accordance with humanitarian law.

“We have observed what we consider to be a worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of the internees” because of the uncertainty of their situation, Westphal told The Associated Press.

Some of the detainees, who are suspected of links to the fallen Afghan Taliban regime or al-Qaida terrorist network, have been at Guantanamo for more than 18 months.

The ICRC, which is winding up a two-month visit to the camp, has been appealing in private to the Bush administration for due process since soon after the detention center was opened in early 2002, he noted.

The neutral, Swiss-run ICRC took the unusual step of going public with the request in May when its president, Jakob Kellenberger, met with top officials of the Bush administration during a visit to Washington.

In a statement posted on their Web site in August the ICRC noted its concern “about the impact the seemingly open-ended detention is having on the internees.”

“As the internees spend more time in Guantanamo and continue to have no idea what is going to happen to them, we are concerned that the impact on them will get more serious,” Westphal said.

Already, he added, “what we are seeing during our repeated visits is that this uncertainty has definitely had an impact on the internees.”

During the current visit, Red Cross representatives have carried out private interviews with many of the detainees, he said.

They also have been giving the detainees Red Cross messages from their families and have collected their return messages. For many, the letters are their main way of staying in touch with their relatives. At last count there had been more than 5,800 such messages, the ICRC said.

The ICRC says the detainees at Guantanamo come from more than 40 countries and speak around 17 languages.

The agency, which is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare, noted that the U.S. has refused to grant the detainees prisoner of war status but promised to treat them humanely.

Whatever the status, the ICRC said, “People held as a result of conflict or armed violence are protected by international humanitarian law, and should be treated humanely.”