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Red Cross Plans Visit to al-Qaida Detainees in Cuba - 2002-08-21

The International Red Cross says it is planning a visit early next month to hundreds of al-Qaida and Taleban detainees being held at the United States base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Red Cross says it wants to revisit the detainees it met earlier this year, meet with new arrivals, and learn about possible changes in conditions and arrangements under which they are being held.

Spokeswoman Antonella Notari also says the Red Cross still disagrees with the United States over the status of the detainees, who American officials describe as enemy combatants not prisoners of war. She says classifying them as enemy combatants and not war prisoners robs them of their rights and protections under the Geneva Conventions.

"If they are POWs, they can be charged with a crime or else, at the end of the hostilities, they will be repatriated," said Ms. Notari. "If they are not considered POWs, then they need anyway to be given a status. They need to be qualified somehow. At the moment, they are in a sort of legal limbo. It is not quite clear on what basis they are being held in Guantanamo."

Despite the differences with the United States, the Red Cross says access to the detainees is of prime importance.

Spokeswoman Notari says Red Cross workers held private, confidential talks with 564 detainees in the first round of visits between mid-January and mid-July. She says the Red Cross workers checked on the detainees welfare and conditions of confinement.

"One of the prime objectives of the delegates visiting prisoners, and in particular these prisoners, is to register each prisoner individually and to have a private talk with each prisoner. That was done for the people that were present in Guantanamo until the time of the departure of the delegates," she said. "One of the first things that they will look at when they return is to see if there were new transfers to Guantanamo and also meet with these new people who have arrived in private and register them."

Ms. Notari says the prisoners have a lot of questions. She says they want to know with what they are being charged, what will happen to them and how long they will remain in detention. She says that at present, the Red Cross officials can provide no answers.