Red Cross To Eye Abu Ghraib

A picture of the White House, Feb. 8, 2010
CBS/Mark Knoller
The International Committee of the Red Cross plans a new investigation of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the aid agency's chief said.

The ICRC wants to see for itself what improvements the American military has made at the detention facility near Baghdad in the wake of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger said in an interview published Sunday.

"We're going to inspect Abu Ghraib again," Kellenberger told the weekly SonntagsZeitung.

"We started our visits in spring 2003 and since then we've seen gradual improvements. But in the past, not all our demands have been met.

"The next visit will allow us to find out how things stand today," Kellenberger said, without giving details of the planned visit.

Contacted by The Associated Press, ICRC spokesman Eros Bosisio confirmed Kellenberger's comments were accurate as published but declined to elaborate.

The neutral ICRC has faced calls to drop its policy of confidentiality in dealing with prisoners in Iraq after the publication of a leaked Red Cross report to U.S. authorities.

The report, published May 7 in The Wall Street Journal, was a summary of the ICRC's attempts in person and in writing from March to November 2003 to get U.S. officials to stop abuses. Kellenberger reiterated that the ICRC had not leaked the report and would not change its quiet approach, which the agency says is the best protection for victims of war.

The Red Cross pressure far preceded the Pentagon's decision to investigate after a low-ranking U.S. soldier stepped forward in January.

The prisoner abuse erupted into an international scandal late last month after the publication of photographs showing U.S. guards mistreating and humiliating detainees.

Kellenberger also said the ICRC was keeping watch on a series of U.S. Army inquiries into prisoner deaths in Iraq.

"We're following the situation," he said. "We expect the investigations to be detailed."

So far, 30 deaths in custody have been subject to U.S. Army investigation, according to military officials.

Several have been attributed to natural or indeterminate causes. Eight were determined to be justifiable homicides by prison guards or other U.S. personnel during four incidents, when prisoners became dangerously violent. Others are still under investigation by the Army.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that hundreds of those detained at Abu Ghraib — including some of the men held in the high-security wing where the abuses took place — were held on scant evidence.

Some were detained and imprisoned merely for showing "displeasure or ill will" to American troops. Some were held even after military commanders pressed for their release, The Times reported.

The ICRC was founded in 1863 to help the wounded and other victims of war. It has been designated by the Geneva Conventions to visit prisoners of war and civilian detainees caught up in conflicts.

Two weeks ago, the Red Cross said it had given U.S. authorities a report on treatment of prisoners held at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

The agency has consistently refused to discuss the document, based on ICRC visits to the base in February and March, and declined to say whether it cited abuses similar to those it found in Iraq.

Released prisoners have claimed they suffered beatings and coerced confessions, but U.S. officials deny this.

The ICRC has been visiting Guantanamo regularly since the arrival in January 2002 of the first of around 600 detainees. Most were captured in the war that ousted Afghanistan's Taliban in late 2001, but some also are suspected of links to the al Qaeda terrorist network.