A senior Red Cross official said the continuing detention of more than 600 terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo U.S. Naval base in Cuba is "unacceptable." U.S. officials say the suspects are considered "enemy combatants," and can be held as long as necessary.
In an interview with The New York Times following an inspection tour of facilities housing the detainees, Christopher Girod, the senior representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Washington D.C., said the continued detention of the terrorist suspects is having a major impact on their mental health.
Mr. Girod did not criticize physical conditions at the camp, but he did say it was "intolerable" that the Guantanamo facility was being used as "an investigation center, and not a detention center."
There are more than 650 detainees at the camp. The ICRC is the only humanitarian organization allowed to inspect facilities at the camp, which is located at the far eastern end of Cuba.
Any comments from Red Cross officials regarding camp conditions are highly unusual, but Mr. Girod said he was speaking out because U.S. officials have not acted on previous complaints.
Red Cross officials say, over the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts. They say the main reason is because of uncertainty over which detainees will be released, or which prisoners will be held to eventually be brought before military tribunals. Mr. Girod said the Bush administration should decide whether to inform the detainees if they are to be charged or released.
Military authorities at the camp say they have released nearly 70 detainees, and are carefully examining the cases of all the others to determine whether they will face criminal charges. They say many of the inmates who reportedly suffer from mental health problems developed those problems before they arrived at Guantanamo.
Most of those detained at Guantanamo were captured during the Afghan campaign, which followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.S. Defense Department has classified them as "unlawful combatants," who are not entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war. That point was repeated by White House Spokesman Scott Mclellan in Washington on Friday.
"Let us remember these individuals are enemy combatants. These individuals are terrorists, or supporters of terrorists, and we were at war with terrorism. And, the reason for detaining enemy combatants in the first place during a war is to gather intelligence, is to make sure these enemy combatants do not return to help our enemies plot attacks, or carry out attacks on the United States," he said.
Major General Geoffrey Miller the commander of the Joint Task Force that runs Guantanamo told The New York Times that the U.S. military continues to receive valuable intelligence from interrogations of the detainees. He is quoted as saying U.S. military authorities do not want the detainees to remain at Guantanamo any longer than is necessary.
Meanwhile officials at the base continue to investigate whether information obtained from interrogations of detainees has been compromised by translators working at the base.
Two translators, one an enlisted Airman, have been arrested, as well as a U.S. Army Muslim Chaplain, on suspicion of espionage at the base.