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ICRC Chief Gives Mixed Review of US Detainee Treatment


The International Committee of the Red Cross says the United States has made progress in the treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism, but that concerns remain.

Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the ICRC said Thursday that there are minimum, universal standards for the treatment of detainees in wartime -- including those captured in the global war on terror. "In ICRC's view, internees must, among other things, be informed of the reasons for their detention, and a procedure provided for them to effectively challenge it. The reasons for detention need to be evaluated by an independent and impartial body with the authority to order release if the reasons for internment no longer exist," he said.

Speaking at Georgetown University, the ICRC chief added that in no case may anyone be held in what he termed "unacknowledged detention." To that end, he welcomed the Bush administration's acknowledgement of secret prisons run by the CIA, and the transfer of detainees previously held incommunicado to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He also noted U.S. Defense Department directives to ensure that the provisions of Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions are applied to all detainees in military custody. Those provisions include a ban on torture and degrading treatment, as well as executions absent a judgment by a regularly constituted court.

But the ICRC chief expressed reservations about the bill President Bush recently signed into law establishing military commissions for trying detainees. "There remain concerns and questions with regard to the Military Commissions Act of 2006. These [concerns] relate in particular to the definition of unlawful enemy combatants, to certain aspects of procedure before military commissions, and the fact that the act does not provide more clarity on the fate of the majority of detainees -- I mean those not brought before the military commissions," he said.

The bill sets out standards for the treatment of detainees and, for those charged with crimes, it establishes a tribunals system that allows detainees legal representation as well as the ability to hear evidence brought against them. Fewer than 100 of more than 400 detainees currently held at Guantanamo have been charged. More than 100 others have been approved for transfer out of Guantanamo. The fate of those neither charged nor approved for transfer remains unclear.

Human rights groups have criticized the bill as lacking adequate legal and humanitarian protections for detainees.

Not so, according to U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, in a VOA interview. "It creates military commissions which allows for trials for these unlawful enemy combatants, and it will mean that people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded the 9-11 (2001) plot, and others who have committed very serious offenses, will be able to be tried in a way that we all consider satisfactory. And, secondly, the law describes a way forward so that interrogations of unlawful enemy combatants will be possible by the CIA in a way that respects our constitution, our laws, and our international legal obligations, including Common Article Three of the Geneva accords," he said.

When the detainee operation began following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the Bush administration insisted that, as enemy combatants fighting without uniforms and without allegiance to any nation, the Geneva Conventions did not apply. The administration nevertheless promised humane treatment.

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