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International Red Cross Committee Chief Criticizes New US Law on Detainees


The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says the group has concerns about a new American law for the treatment and trials of detainees in the war on terror. Despite noting some positive steps, he made it clear the ICRC is not satisfied that detainees in U.S. custody are being accorded all the minimum protections guaranteed by international law.

Jakob Kellenberger is president of the 80-year-old International Committee of the Red Cross, a neutral organization that works to protect civilians, and that also takes impartial action for prisoners. He told an audience at Washington’s Georgetown University that the Geneva Conventions set minimum, universal standards for the treatment of detainees, including those captured in the global war on terror.

"Internees must, among other things, be informed of the reasons for their detention, and a procedure provided for them to effectively challenge it,” Kellenberger said. “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. Other requirements of humane treatment, such as contacts with family members, must also be implemented. In no case may persons be held in unacknowledged detention."

U.S. officials have said that following the recent transfer of 14 high-profile terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are no longer any detainees being held in secret CIA prisons. The ICRC was allowed to visit those 14 prisoners at Guantanamo last week. They are being held with about 435 others, most of them deemed unlawful enemy combatants. But Kellenberger said the ICRC has concerns about a new U.S. law, which sets out procedures for the treatment and trial of terror suspects. President Bush said it will be used to put on trial those who planned the September 11 attacks, and also those responsible for the attack on the USS Cole six years ago.

"This nation will call evil by its name, we will answer brutal murder with patient justice,” he said at a signing ceremony at the White House. “Those who kill the innocent will be held to account.”

But ICRC chief Kellenberger noted the new law will not grant trials to the vast majority of Guantanamo detainee who have not been charged, and who will have no right to challenge their detention in a court of law. He said the fate of those prisoners, and the procedures for defining unlawful combatants, remain unclear.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense released several detainees this week to other countries. About 110 detainees out of the remaining 435 are also eligible for transfer or release, according to defense officials, pending negotiations with the countries that would receive them.